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Every 5 years, the USDA and HHS (Health and Human Services) review the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and publish their newest reformed recommendations. Last month, the  USDA presented their newest suggestions which they say is based on “best information on the latest science and research”. After watching the presentation live on the web and reading through the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 4-page executive summary, all I have to say is: what a bunch a baloney!

Americans are incredibly confused about nutrition and I place the blame largely on the hands of the USDA and their faulty suggestions. This is what helped to start the calorie and fat craze decades ago that still leaves people brainwashed to this day. It’s interesting to note that the USDA is known for caving to pressure from food industry groups; Dr. Marion Nestle and Dr. Louise Light worked on the original food pyramid and have been whistle blowers over what has gone on behind closed doors. This really makes me wonder what they consider to be “science”.

The newest recommendations are fairly similar to previous ones. It’s suggested that we consume fewer calories, avoid saturated fat, sugar, and sodium, and eat more fruits and vegetables. The mentality behind this is largely in hopes to help end our obesity epidemic, reduce the high rate of heart disease, and reduce chronic disease. Of course, the science doesn’t support these recommendations, but that’s never stopped the USDA, American Medical Association, or the American Dietetics Association from promoting the same thing.

New suggestions

In the new announcement, there was a very strong focus on calories. USDA secretary Tom Vilsack says that we need to not just consume fewer calories, but consume them smarter, saying that “not every calorie is the same”. Throughout the speech, this kept getting repeated; eat fewer calories, eat better calories, calories in versus calories out. The “good” calories, according to the new dietary guidelines are: fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean meats; the bad calories included sugar, “solid fats” (I assume this to mean saturated fats), and sodium. Secretary Vilsack did also mention something that is becoming more of a buzz word these days, and that’s nutrient density. The 2010 dietary guidelines stress consuming more plants in all forms.

Inclusive to these new suggestions, the USDA has been working to help people be able to eat healthier and afford healthy food. Two things were mentioned: putting nutrition labels on the front of packages for “busy moms” and also to implement changes put forth in the Recovery Act so that individuals on food stamps can buy “healthier food” (in this case, defined as fruits and vegetables) and receive a discount on said items. Something else they would like to implement, coming from the Affordable Care Act is to try to put calorie information on menus to “help people make smarter choices”.

What’s wrong with these suggestions?

How about almost everything? Such as has been done since the original report decades ago, it continues to misinform individuals on proper dietary choices and thus leads to the nutritional confusion most people face today.

Calories

Calories in, calories out. It keeps getting repeated like a broken record. Most people believe this strategy, and most who have tried it have found that their results just aren’t what they planned. This is because it’s the quality of the food that is paramount! The body is a complex organism and different foods affect the body in different ways (and to complicate matters, different foods affect different people in different ways; aka bioindividuality).

Some foods will cause an insulin spike which will encourage the body to gain weight, and some foods help the body lose weight. It’s not as simple as choosing between junk food and health food (though to complicate matters further, our perception of health food is often wrong as well!), because our very notion of healthy food is skewed.

Salt

In NYC, you will see adds on the subway cautioning about salt intake. On store shelves you will see reduced sodium broths, soups, and sauces. Salt, along with sugar and fat has been labeled as public enemy #1 in the health crusade, but is it justified? Typically, the bad gets mixed in with the good and we have ourselves some serious confusion. There is a difference between isolated salt (sodium chloride) and sea salt, but of course the USDA doesn’t recognize any difference between the quality of foods. The subject of sodium vs sea salt is a separate one altogether and will be tackled another day.

In regards to the USDA’s suggestion to drastically reduce your intake of sodium, take note that Gary Taubes wrote in the journal Science that there is simply no evidence to suggest that sodium is bad for your health. Taubes’s writing on this subject won him the 1999 Science in Society Journalism Award from the National Association of Science Writers.

Certainly we should avoid foods that are loaded with sodium; such as packaged foods. But of course, if you are consuming a diet of whole foods, then you don’t have to worry about such things. Similarly, it’s dangerous to reduce overall sodium content found in whole foods. Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig write in their lauded book Nourishing Traditions:

As all body fluids contain sodium, it can be said that sodium is essential to life. It is needed for many biochemical processes including water balance regulation, fluid distribution on either side of the cell walls, muscle contraction and expansion, nerve stimulation and acid-alkaline balance. Sodium is very important to the proper function of the adrenal glands.

Vegetables and Fruit

Any balanced diet should include plants; you will find a scant few health professionals who suggest otherwise. The debate, however, is how much of your diet should consist of plants. The majority of people will tell you that fruits and vegetables are where you get your vitamins and nutrients from. Even famed author and journalist Michael Pollan says that we should eat “mostly plants”. Here’s the problem though: there is no good evidence to suggest that eating more plants will have any positive effect on our health. In fact, you can see for yourself where the nutrition is if you look at the numbers.

For some reason, our understanding of nutrition has been dumbed down to believe that meat = protein & B12 and plants = vitamins, to put it simply. The undeniable fact is, however, that most of our nutrient requirements come from animal products. It would be extremely difficult (and almost impossible, depending on the circumstance) to get our nutritional requirements from eating more plants and less meat/animal products or none at all!

Fat

Fat. It’s the dietary word that sends shivers down everyone’s spine. It’s what keeps teen-aged girls afraid of gaining weight up at night. Unfortunately, of all the diet myths that have been spread, the myths about dietary fat have perhaps had the biggest effect. Fat doesn’t make you fat, and while the USDA has long since retracted their caution against all fats (now saying that unsaturated fats are where it’s at), this fear still persists and keeps people buying skim milk and whatever else has the “low in fat!” label plastered on the front of the package. You can still find publications that link “low fat” with “healthy” because of the great anti-fat campaign of years past.

There are a few problems with “low fat” foods and diets. Firstly, refined foods that are stripped of their fat are not whole foods and as such, should be avoided as a general rule. Studies have shown that such low-fat foods make the body crave more fat and as a result, and individual will eat more (usually in the form of easily accessible snacks and sweets) and thus gain more weight. Secondly, fat fills you up. It’s the in-between meals snacking that really gets most people and a diet that is low in fat leaves an individual hungry and looking for more food. Thirdly, a low-fat diet is deficient in the paramount fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E, K, and K2. Vitamins A and D by themselves have been shown to be helpful for a variety of conditions such as viral immunity, diabetes, and cancer. Fat is your friend. You want fat in your diet. It’s that simple.

But what about the renowned bad guy, saturated fat? Surely we must cut back on saturated fat intake to help prevent heart disease right? The answer to that is: no, absolutely not. There is simply no evidence to suggest that saturated fat is linked to heart disease. Coconut is one of the most dense saturated fats (containing 90% saturated fat) and you won’t find heart disease amongst coconut eaters. You also won’t find high levels of heart disease in Tibet where yak butter is a dietary staple. Numerous studies have shown that there is simply no good evidence to suggest that saturated fat is linked to heart disease. Just last year there was a meta analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which analyzed 21 different studies and reported no association of heart disease with saturated fat.

Here’s a real shocking fact that the USDA will never admit to: saturated fats actually help prevent heart disease!

What’s the answer?

The answer of course, is to do almost the opposite of what the USDA tells you. Ideally, you want a diet that is high in fat and that includes only whole foods. Choose meat and dairy products that come from animals that lived their life on the pasture and consumed their natural diet. Dairy that is consumed should ideally be raw and of course from grass-fed cows. Make your own gelatin-rich bone broth and try to include it in as many of your weekly meals as possible. Purchased wild-caught seafood and consume it at least once a week.

In short, you ideally want to consume a nourishing diet similar to that of your ancestors. The same diet that humans have consumed for generation after generation before all the food scares. We are told that these foods that our ancestors enjoyed and made a staple of their diet is bad for us. If it is, then why is it that only in the current era that we have experienced an explosion of various diseases, disorders, and other pathologies?

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