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Are Carbs No Longer Good Choices"

The ghost of Dr. Atkins haunts us at the dining table

By Hal Higdon

"Good choice!"

Or in certain extraordinary culinary circumstances: "Excellent!"

So bespoke waiters in trendy restaurants when my wife and I dined out on weekends. "Good choice" usually echoed my selection from the menu of fettuccini with a fresh basil sauce. "Excellent" came in response to my adding a Shiraz wine from Australia's Yarra Valley that contained empty calories, but who was counting?

Were these paeans of praise sincere, or only to produce tips above the customary 15 percent? Were they true acknowledgments of my mastery of menus or crudely calculated by the management to insure our return? Perhaps some judgment was involved, because it seems months since a server praised my choice of any carb-dominated meal. Lips curl. Eyes roll. Tip be damned. Nothing I eat lately elicits praise in this era where the ghost of Dr. Atkins haunts our culinary choices.

How can you bypass our 12-ounce sirloin steak, wonders my server? How dare you ignore there on the menu half a hog's worth of ribs guaranteed to strip 5 pounds from your waist before you reach the parking lot?

Nutrition vs. marketing

All my once healthy dining choices now seem obsolete. A believer in diets that combine carbohydrates, fats and protein in a ratio of 55/30/15, I now discover my numbers all upside down. Foods I choose at the grocery store stay the same, but now have a different purpose. A brick of cheese identifies itself as a "low-carb alternative." Are we talking nutrition here or marketing?

Fortunately, the food marketers have avoided similarly marking my favorite brand of non-hydrogenated peanut butter. But can I still combine that in sandwiches with jelly and not lose face? Do high-protein strawberry preserves yet exist? Do I really want to know?

In a visit to a fast-food restaurant recently, I noticed that one low-carb alternative was sandwiches without bread. But if you remove the bread, can it still be a sandwich? One current study suggests that carbohydrates cause cancer. Can a scientist have his Ph.D. revoked for pandering to public tastes? Did you read recently about the couple in Salt Lake City who were kicked out of an all-you-can-eat restaurant when they went back for a 12th serving of roast beef because they were disciples of Dr. Atkins?

That's not quite as bad as what happened to Morgan Spurlock in the documentary film Super Size Me. Spurlock ate every meal for a month at McDonald's, gained 30 pounds, added 65 points to his cholesterol level and caused symptoms of toxic shock to his liver. Plus his girlfriend complained about their sex life. Were servers in that fast-food chain encouraging him with cries of "Good choice" and "Excellent?"

When I make food choices, should I worry about the opinions of people whose view of my health is colored by the size of tips left after diners depart picking red meat from their teeth? Thank you for telling me tonight's specials, but I have a 15-mile run scheduled tomorrow morning. Bring on the plate of pasta.