Get the Sandwich! Science Says a Low Carb Diet Could Kill You

in praise of carbs man repeller

I write this while sitting next to a club sandwich.

Permission to rhapsodize about the sandwich? I’ll assume it’s been granted: Oh, what a sandwich! The club really is the king of sandwiches, isn’t it? It’s the Chris Pine of sandwiches, objectively the best of the four main variants. (Hemsworth is a grilled cheese, Evans is all-American PB&J and Pratt is a Reuben: meaty and not to everyone’s taste.)

Sorry, where were we? Sandwiches. God, I love them. And I love this particular club sandwich the most of all. I ordered it from room service at my hotel as I began to think about this story, and just as a few ideas started rattling around in my head, the sandwich arrived like the proverbial manna from heaven. Now, it’s all I can think about. Thick — thicc, even — and full of variety, this sandwich is some of the most fun your mouth can have without taking its clothes off. You have fat wedges of turkey, you have crispy bits of bacon, you have the good lettuce — stiff and ready to perform — you have the perfect diameter of sliced tomato, and you have it all jammed between not two but three lightly charred pieces of rye bread. The club is of the more is more mentality, a quality I admire both in a sandwich and in life.

There it is: When you reduce it right down like a well-made sauce, I like the club sandwich the best because its ratio of bread to filling is so high.

I’m a carbs girl. Nothing gives me comfort deep in the grit of my bones like a big bowl of starch. I eat carbs. I eat a lot of them. Just call me Sophia Loren, everything you see — every laugh line and every dimple and every wobble — I owe to spaghetti. Oh, pasta. The superior food! This is what they serve in heaven, I’m sure of it. Just plates of spaghetti carbonara in which every strand is cooked perfectly al dente. Or a puttanesca! Rich and caper-y and so intimate. I love potatoes, too. I get that from my mother. Sometimes, we go out for dinner and she orders two side dishes in lieu of a main, and those side dishes are always a rumpled unmade bed of mashed potatoes and mac and cheese. (Mac and cheese! Show me a person who says they don’t love mac and cheese, and I’ll show you a liar.) My last meal on earth would be a chip sandwich — literally, just a sandwich filled with chips — salted within an inch of the sandwich’s and my life, a spectacular carb double down. I adore rice. I live for cookies. Quite frankly, I would do some obscene things for an everything bagel.

This ode to all the carbs I’ve loved before barely even scratches the surface of what a carb is, so here’s a brief scientific interlude: Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients, right alongside protein and fat, that comprise the bulk of our diet. But like any umbrella term, there’s an ecosystem of variety within the family of carbs. In layman’s terms, carbs are sugars (including fruit and vegetables), starch (bread! rice! potatoes! Did I mention I love potatoes?) and fiber (meaning pulses — lentils, legumes and whatnot — and whole grains).

According to peak health and nutritional bodies, like the National Health Service (NHS) in my adopted homeland of England, carbs should form just over a third of our diet and serve as our major energy source. When tallied up, a little over half of your daily calorie intake should come from eating starches, fruits and vegetables, although probably not from a single club sandwich. The NHS advises that, like all good things, carbs be enjoyed openly but in moderation. Like John Legend’s Christmas album, or the National Treasure movies.

Would that it were so simple. Over the years, carbs have been recast as the nefarious villain in the fable that is women’s bodies. Diets like Atkins, Dukan, South Beach and now Keto all asked us to pare back our carb intake and, dutifully, we did. We learned to be scared of carbs and what they might do to our stomachs and our thighs. We — oh god, to write it pains me, still — began to make carb-y things out of other, less-carb-y things. Like zucchini noodles. Or cauliflower rice. We cut thick slices of sweet potato, stuck them in a toaster, and called them bread. Jesus would have wept, too.

I know that I shouldn’t be eating a carb-heavy meal three times a day. I know that I ought to try to balance out the simple carbs — baked goods, breakfast cereals, white bread — with complex carbs — brown rice, whole grains, etc — and plenty of fat and protein. But to all those avoiding carbs for the sake of their health, a counterpoint: According to new research from the Polish Mother’s Memorial Hospital Research Institute, eating a very low carb diet could kill you. Counterpoint to the counterpoint: A low carb diet has been proven to help with the treatment and management of Type 2 diabetes. Final counterpoint: Zoodles are gross.

Like most things in this life, it’s all about balance. There’s a season for everything, and that includes carbs. I’m not going to deny myself the simple pleasure of a platter of cacio e pepe, eaten standing up at the kitchen counter moments after I’ve grated the pecorino. I’m going to stab my fork into that pillowy stack of pancakes. I’m going to run to the bakery first thing in the morning and buy a baguette still warm from the oven and I’m going to close my eyes as I listen to that mouthwatering ccccccrack as I tear off the end.

To deny myself these things for reasons other than medical necessity is to deny myself the creased, cozy stuff of life: Carbs give us energy, they give us comfort and they give us pleasure. They are the best friend, the getaway driver and the rebound, all at once.

Photos by Heidi’s Bridge.

Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer and podcaster living in London

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