A confirmed spaghetti addict finds that the latest in food facts is hard to swallow

January 14, 1996|By SUSAN REIMER

DIETARY recommendations issued last week by the federal government declared that a little wine with dinner is not such a bad thing, that some meats should be consumed only in moderation and that even modest weight gains with age are not healthy.

These recommendations surprised a great many, who have found the federal guidelines in the past to be wishy-washy and covered with the fingerprints of various agricultural lobbyists. Equally surprising, however, was the fact that nowhere in the new guidelines was it recommended that we consume miles of spaghetti on plates the size of garbage-can lids.

Pasta. I should have said pasta.

That is a more inclusive description of the carbohydrate that now comes in more colors and textures than pantyhose -- which, you may have noticed, have not been fitting as well since you began that low-fat, high-pasta diet.

I suspect that the pasta we embraced in place of meats, sweets and fried foods may have been our undoing. Americans gained an average of eight pounds during the low-fat decade, and my guess is most of those pounds came covered with a delightful sauce of Italian tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic.

No-fat does not mean no-calories, it says in the fine print, and if we are going to make three meals a day out of pasta, it can be no more than would fill a teacup. This comes as a shock to those of us who liked our spaghetti dripping off the edges of large dinner plates and figured we were losing weight with each forkful.

Worse, researchers also suggest that pasta, or rather the carbohydrates it contains, may be addictive, like alcohol or cocaine, and that some of us may be walking around with a gene that dooms us to this addiction. Those nuisance dopamine receptors in the brain that let us know when we are experiencing pleasure are causing some of us to run our cars off the road near Italian restaurants.

And I thought I'd be OK if I just stayed away from the veal and the cream sauces.

With the confessional humility of a AA member, I would like to say, "My name is Susan, and I am addicted to spaghetti."

I wake each morning promising myself that I will not eat pasta today. And each day I break my word before 11 a.m. I would have it for breakfast, but there would be witnesses, and so far I have successfully hidden this little problem from my family.

I will eat pasta in any shape, any flavor. Fresh or boxed. As a cold salad or covered in something hot and red. It can be tossed with garlic butter and shrimp by a darkly handsome chef with an accent. Or I can microwave last night's leftovers. I am not particular.

Whoever said, "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels," must not like to eat spaghetti.

If I try to go a day without it, I become edgy and sarcastic. Two days, and I start to shriek and slam doors. On the third day, I am defeated and boiling salted water.

I feared this was a weakness in my character until I read the research that suggested I crave pasta because of my parent's poor genetic pool. That if one of them had made a better choice in life partners, I might simply be a coke-head.

And I have also read that I am not gaining weight on my all-pasta-all-day diet because I am eating too much of it, but because it is triggering the over-production of insulin, which determines how my body stores fat.

You see? It's not my fault. It is a chemical imbalance in my body.

Like you, I feel whipsawed and betrayed by the pendulum swings in nutrition advice. I am currently drinking 90 ounces of water a day in order to moisturize my skin from the inside and flush fat globules out of my bloodstream.

I fully expect to wake up tomorrow and read that drinking too much water causes you to retain water.

And makes you fat.

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