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Salt is OK in lake but not for Newt

Published: Thursday, Aug. 21 1997 12:00 a.m. MDT

Just in case anyone was wondering what to feed newly slimmed U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich during his daylong visit to Salt Lake City, his staff circulated a lengthy list of diet do's and don'ts.

Gingrich arrived in the state after breakfast Wednesday to address the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. He lunched with Olympic leaders before leaving.He promised the veterans he'd work to improve their health care, possibly linking hospitals and outpatient clinics run by the Veterans Affairs Department with the world's top specialists via special video connections.

He promised the Olympic leaders he'd work to get the federal help needed for the 2002 Winter Games, especially in the area of security. "It is in America's interest to make sure the Olympics are successful in 2002," Gingrich said.

Both pledges were short on details, such as how much federal money would be invested in either the new 21st century Veterans Health Initiative or the 2002 Winter Games.

There were plenty of details, however, in the multiple-page list of what Gingrich can and can't eat on his new diet that apparently was distributed to Utahns likely to encounter the speaker at mealtime.

Gingrich told Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show" Tuesday that he's succeeded in losing 25 pounds so far on this regime and intends to keep it up until he loses another 20.

The list cites specific foods he'll eat, divided into proteins and carbohydrates. There are lots of healthy veggies among the carbos, along with the following warning: "NO CANNED VEGETABLES."

Forget about cooking anything with butter or oil, although "a little bit of Pam (a brand of no-calorie cooking spray) is OK." Food should be broiled, boiled, baked, steamed or otherwise prepared without added fat.

What about a sprinkle of salt for flavor? No way. Garlic or onion powder are the only acceptable seasonings for the three meals and a snack that Gingrich is eating daily on his diet. By the way, the snack should be served at 4 p.m.

He'd left Utah before snacktime, but the Salt Lake Organizing Committee provided him with a special meal during his meeting with Gov. Mike Leavitt, Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini and other Olympic leaders.

The menu? Ahi tuna on a bed of salad greens as an appetizer, followed by grilled chicken on plain - not egg - noodles without sauce or even butter. Dessert was a cantaloupe filled with strawberries.

And no, there weren't ANY canned vegetables.

So was anything besides the Olympics and the menu discussed during Gingrich's meal with Utah dignitaries?

Well, one of the topics Gingrich brought up was - dinosaurs.

"He loves dinosaurs," Corradini said, laughing. "We had a little scientific discussion." As in, did the dinosaurs become completely extinct, or did they just evolve into birds?

Perhaps, not surprisingly, no definitive conclusion was reached.

There was no word on whether Gingrich's interest in the subject was sparked by the opinion of some people that he's a political dinosaur himself.

That opinion was expressed last week by Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, to the Deseret News editorial board. Cook, a freshman, said he doubted whether Gingrich could be elected speaker again in the next Congress.

When the comments were picked up by the national press, Gingrich was not amused. After serious complaints from Gingrich's office, Cook issued a "clarifying" letter to the editor - reportedly approved by Gingrich's staff - that said Cook was one of the speaker's strongest supporters and believed Gingrich would be speaker for years.

Cook stood next to the speaker during the Olympic appearances Wednesday and all seemed forgiven, although Gingrich pointedly said he would be speaker during the 2002 Games.

But Utah Democrats still used the speaker's visit here to take a slap at Cook.

Party state chairwoman Meg Holbrook said that first Cook was a Republican, then he wasn't. Then he was an independent, then he wasn't. He was almost a Democrat, then he wasn't. Then he said Gingrich wouldn't be speaker again, then he said Gingrich would.

"It's no wonder Utahns don't know where Congressman Cook stands. He stands firmly on both sides," Holbrook said.

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