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Obama's other health downfall -- pie

The arugula-eating president's cholesterol count needs to come down, his doctor says. So besides quitting smoking, he'll have to start skipping dessert.

March 02, 2010|By Peter Nicholas

Reporting from Washington — The famously self-disciplined president who seemingly can't miss a morning workout has a secret craving: pie.

Helicoptering home Sunday from a routine physical exam, President Obama acknowledged to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs that he needed to start passing up the rich desserts and pastries served by eager-to-please chefs.

At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, the lanky Obama hardly appears to be pillaging the dessert cart. But blood tests don't lie. Obama's LDL cholesterol count has jumped from 96 a couple of summers ago to 138 -- borderline high. Obama was advised to adjust his diet to bring the number below 130.

So in addition to giving up cigarettes, the president is committed to forsaking dessert. Or at least the fattening variety.

The White House chefs "make good desserts," Gibbs told reporters Monday. "I think he's on more than one occasion sampled more than he needed to."

Skipping dessert won't be easy. The Thanksgiving menu at the White House included six kinds of pie. The White House pastry chef has said the first family's favorite dessert is huckleberry cobbler with caramel ice cream.

Revelations about the presidential sweet tooth cut two ways. Anything that humanizes Obama is a plus politically, given that he is often portrayed as an abstemious, Spock-like character. But with First Lady Michelle Obama urging healthy eating, the president needs to set a good example.

So who makes the call? Do the White House chefs need to dial down the sugar, butter and cream? Or is it Obama's responsibility to, as Gibbs said, "push away from the table when the pie" arrives?

A former White House chef said that, ultimately, it's up to the president.

"The chefs don't go out of their way to make the first family unhealthy or to overfeed them," said Walter Scheib, who was in the job under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. "If the family decides to keep the cake or pie in the refrigerator, they'll do so."

Scheib said the problem didn't necessarily start at home. When the president travels, the chefs always want to impress. Anticipating a bevy of rich meals on the road, the White House cooks under Scheib's watch would serve lower-calorie meals before a trip or after the president returned home, he said.

"The family takes so many meals out, and it's often the case that this may be the one and only chance someone has to cook for a president," Scheib said. "So they pull out all the stops. You're highly unlikely to serve him a spinach salad and bowl of chicken soup."

Weight Watchers offers a tip: Don't take away the president's dessert. Just make it healthier.

"If [he] can bring down the calories and sugar -- which is pretty easy to do -- then he'll be significantly more successful than if he tried to go cold turkey," said Lynn Kaufman, a Weight Watchers leader in Los Angeles.

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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