Tag Archives: nutrition

Plates or pyramids? Why the government still is wrong about food

28 Oct
The Food Pyramid

The Food Pyramid, circa 2005

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is still wrong.

Back on June 2, 2011, the USDA, along with First Lady Michelle Obama, replaced the infamous Food Pyramid with the Food Plate. The Plate eliminates the “oils” group, and re-arranges the other 5 groups into an admittedly more intuitive design, but the Plate is still essentially the same as the Pyramid.

The Plate’s web site, the poorly-titled choosemyplate.gov (who’s choosing my plate?…the government?), emphasizes counting calories, eating less, having veggies and carbs be the two biggest servings on your plate, reducing your sodium intake, and drinking fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk.

There’s a little problem, though. All of those recommendations are flawed, have no scientific basis, and could actually be detrimental to your health instead of helpful to your health.

To most Americans, that last sentence is nutrition heresy. We’ve been taught since the 1980s (at least that’s when I remember it) that we need to watch our calories, not be gluttons with portion sizes, eat equally from the food groups, sodium is bad, saturated fat is bad, foods high in cholesterol is bad, whole milk is bad, etc. This is the current conventional wisdom, and we’ve bought into it hook, line and sinker.

The Food Plate, circa 2011

The Food Plate, circa 2011

So why have obesity and diabetes rates continued to skyrocket since the 1980s? If we’re getting better dietary guidelines, why is the nation getting sicker instead of healthier?

Maybe, just maybe, it’s because the dietary guidelines we’ve been given is wrong.

The real reason Americans are obese

In his game-changing book Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes explains why these dietary guidelines are wrong (and for those who care, how we came to believe this information was right). It turns out that what makes people fat isn’t the number of calories nor the amount of food we eat. Nor do we get fat from eating foods high in saturated fat or foods high in cholesterol. According to Taubes, there actually no science behind this conventional wisdom.

Nevertheless, America is constantly being fed these incorrect guidelines, and now Mrs. Obama is even taking the lead in nagging us about how to lose weight that, frankly, isn’t going to work.

Rather, Taubes elaborates that, genetics notwithstanding, carbs (and particularly refined carbs) make us fat b/c carbs triggers an insulin response in our body to store the carbs as fat. So it’s not just sugar. It’s also white rice (heresy to Asians), white bread (heresy to Americans) and potatoes. If you want to lose weight, you have to go cold turkey and cut all those things out of your diet. What’s more, saturated fat and dietary cholesterol neither make you fat nor put you at greater risk for heart disease. On the contrary, meat products had beneficial nutrients in them. If you want the full scoop on these shocking facts about conventional dietary wisdom, Taubes describes in greater detail in his book. And he shows how those facts are backed up by science.

When I read Taubes’ book, the proverbial light bulb went on in my head. I know two people who work out religiously but are both overweight. I know a third person who is highly (not moderately) active physically yet can easily gain weight. A fourth guy was an avid runner and was a mindful eater yet suffered a stroke at age 54. And my wife and I also were trying to diligently follow that freaky Pyramid but we just couldn’t lose any significant weight, always being at the heavy end of the ‘normal’ weight range for our heights.

Michelle Obama takes on childhood obesity

Michelle Obama takes on childhood obesity

Our own personal experiences

We decided to do our own version of a low-carb diet. Though I had mocked Atkins when I first heard about his diet, it turns out he was right after all. We ate as much meat as we royally wanted as well as eggs, seafood, butter and other government-discouraged foods to our heart’s content, but we cut out all desserts, rice, bread, bagels, pasta and potatoes in our diet. We did this for a few months… and my wife lost 20 pounds while I lost 25 pounds! And we lost all this weight while stuffing ourselves at mealtimes. As my wife once said, “It doesn’t feel like a diet b/c I’m always full after every meal. I don’t have to starve myself or count calories.” Even some Hollywood types are discovering the real way to lose weight is high-protein, low-carb.

Personally, we were excited but still skeptical. What if we were getting skinnier on the outside but inside our blood vessels, they were getting all clogged up from all the meat we were eating? I went to the lab to get my blood work done b/c we figured the data from my blood won’t lie. When I got my results, I couldn’t believe it. My triglycerides went down (a good thing), my cholesterol went down (also good), and my good cholesterol went up (a very good thing).

How about Gary Taubes himself? He posted his own blood work results online, warning that he eats three eggs with cheese, bacon and sausage for breakfast every morning, typically a couple of cheeseburgers (no bun) or a roast chicken for lunch, and usually around a pound of beef for dinner. Like me, his blood numbers are all great.

Unfortunately, the federal government continues to perpetuate dietary myths. In fact, in Feb 2010, Mrs. Obama launched a new nationwide program called “Let’s Move!” with “an ambitious national goal of solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight.” How does the program plan to accomplish this? By encouraging kids to, um, “be more active” and “eat better.” If that sounds like a regurgitation of the conventional wisdom, it is. Links for the “eat better” component of “Let’s Move!” takes you to that aforementioned, dreadfully-named choosemyplate.gov web site.

If you think doling out incorrect dietary guidelines is bad, there are more areas where the federal government hurts, rather than helps, its citizens besides guidelines on how to lose weight. Sad but true. Will post those in the future.

Your turn

What do you think? Is Gary Taubes wrong? Are the blood results misleading? Is there a different reason Americans continue to become obese and diabetic in record numbers despite more vigilant government campaigning about how to eat right?