We’re all familiar with the Food Pyramid, that triangular formation divided into six sections to give us a visual of what food we should be eating every day. Americans were introduced to it in 1992, but did you know that it was originally designed in Sweden in the 1970’s? The Swedish government asked the National Board of Health and Welfare to assist citizens who were dealing with rampant high food prices. Their response was to create a visual aid to show which foods were essential to human health and which ones supplemented the basic foods with vitamins and minerals so that the public could spend their grocery dollars wisely.
In 1992, the USDA, the United States Department of Agriculture, unveiled its version of the Food Pyramid, ostensibly to guide Americans to basic foods that should be consumed each day, as well as recommended proportions for better health. Previous guidance from the USDA included 1943’s Basic Seven and the updated Basic Four that was released in 1956 and used until 1992. Both nutrition guides suggested the basic food groups, without detail on quantity.
Upon release of the new Food Pyramid, there was immediate controversy, and rightly so. There were dramatic differences in the version that was approved for distribution and the original created by Luise Light, the nutrition expert from New York University who was recruited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a new guide to replace the “Basic Four” guidance that had been used since WWII.
Light’s original pyramid showcased fruits and vegetables, making up the wide base of the pyramid, with recommendations for very limited starches and sugars, as represented at the very peak of the pyramid. Light is on record as saying her food pyramid was “sold to the highest bidder,” and, “the wholesale changes made to the guide by the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture were calculated to win the acceptance of the food industry.”
She goes on to say that her wording was manipulated to showcase processed foods over fresh and whole foods, to minimize lean meats and low fat dairy because meat and dairy lobbies were concerned it would hurt sales of their full fat products. Wheat and grains, including cereals, were hugely increased from Light’s original recommendation of 3-4 daily servings (represented at the top of the pyramid) to 6-11 servings per day. The nutritionist and her team recommended 5-9 daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables but that was replaced with a meager 2-3 servings per day. Wording was also altered from “eat less” to “avoid too much” to steer clear of advising to limit “fun food” (aka junk food) and affecting profits of the companies who produced them.
The USDA’s most recent offers are no less influenced by the special interests of lobbyists and the industries they represent. In fact, the 2005 food pyramid was guided by the same PR firm whose past clients included McDonalds and The Snack Food Association. The firm, Porter Novelli, assured the government that there would be no conflict of interest but 2.5 million taxpayer dollars later, that dubious claim was debunked when the new graphic for the pyramid contained no information to inform the public or damage the special interests in the food industry. The graphic was composed of colored sections representing food groups and a stick-figure running up a set of stairs.
In 2011, the USDA introduced the food circle, ChooseMyPlate.gov. This graphic was chosen to be a simpler representation of daily food choices. The plate, however, still insists that one half of dietary intake come from starches and sugars. To further cloud the issue, there is no mention of fat intake and no distinction in protein that can be sourced from vegetables or animal tissue.
The USDA’s stated purpose is to oversee the American farming industry. Its duties range from helping farmers with price support subsidies to inspecting food to ensure the safety of the American public. The agency has been scrutinized in recent years for its failure to protect American consumers from tainted foods that are not processed properly. (http://www.allgov.com/departments/department-of-agriculture?detailsDepartmentID=5680).
The USDA’s official website, https://www.usda.gov/our-agency/about-usda/, states its mission, among other functions, is to, “promote agriculture production that better nourishes Americans while also helping feed others throughout the world.”
The agency heavily subsidizes corn, wheat, rice, and soybean industries and their producers receive the bulk of over $25 million dollars in annual subsidies. Big food lobbyists spend upwards of $36 million annually pushing their agenda on the U.S. government. These lobbyists represent food manufacturers whose profits are anchored in GMO (genetically modified organisms) and the heavy use of antibiotics. These manufactures are given the lion’s share of subsidies and in turn free advertising and promotion by our federal government.
Farmer interests have long held sway with the government. States with economic ties to farming have co-opted the support of legislators from all over the country. These legislators advance subsidies in farm bills that support programs such as food stamps. Environmentalists are often co-opted to support farm bills because of the inclusion of conservation subsidies. The end result of all this co-opting and subsidizing is expansion of the USDA’s budget.
Government subsidizing of farmers’ crops leads to promotion of certain crops, and foods. The government tells schools what food they can serve our children. The government is also gearing to ban certain ingredients and to require menu labeling. Public health advocates believe that the government has a role in guiding Americans to better nutrition choices, but the sad fact is that the government has been in the business of telling citizens what to eat for decades, and the current poor state of health in this country paints a dismal picture of government success in this endeavor.
In 2015, the government finally admitted that there is no appreciable relationship between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. This is after forty years telling Americans that they should not eat cholesterol-laden foods such as eggs and shrimp, and buttermilk
Americans have gotten fat and unhealthy under the guidance of the federal government. Obesity rates have been on the rise in the U.S. since the government started promoting so-called healthy oils and grains to combat heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Indeed, health-conscience Americans who have looked to the government for guidance on proper nutrition continue to be blatantly deceived.
Five Way to Improve Your Diet Starting Today
Luise Light recently wrote, “The health consequences of encouraging the public to eat so much refined grain, which the body processes like sugar, was frightening.” She was very vocal in her concerns that the USDA version of her food pyramid would cause an epidemic of obesity and diabetes in this country. We now know that her concern was prophetic.
Scientific evidence has never supported low fat, high carb, extreme exercise as being the ideal human diet. No longer theory, the American diet, as shaped by the U.S. government, has proven that Americans get fat, develop diabetes, and increase their risk of heart disease and stroke. Years of recommendations of making carbohydrates the centerpiece of daily food consumption has left Americans obese, unhealthy, and disappointed.
- Reduce Sugar
No one wants to hear it, but refined sugar is killing us. PET scans of brains after sugar intake are eerily similar to those after cocaine is used. When we eat, a hormone called dopamine is released. This hormone causes the brain to feel pleasure and thus trains us to repeat the behavior that caused the pleasure, such as eating. It’s simple enough to understand that eating keeps us alive so if eating causes pleasure, our brain trains us to seek this pleasure again and again. The problem is that certain foods overstimulate our brains and flood them with much more dopamine than is required for sustenance.
Sugar and cocaine both stimulate our brains to over-produce dopamine. Sugar also has some effect on the opioid pathways in our brains, the same systems that are stimulated by heroin and morphine. Highly processed, sugar-laden foods hijack the same brain channels as drugs that are abused, making us want more of the food. Abstaining from the food can cause the same withdrawal symptoms as nicotine, caffeine, opioids, and other addictive substances. In fact, the FDA is starting to approve the same drugs that are used to fight addiction for weight loss assistance.
Excess sugar in your body causes fat beads to form around your liver, leading to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. It also predisposes your body to diabetes. Chronically high insulin levels cause the smooth muscle cells around your blood vessels to grow faster than normal, causing them to become stiff and inflexible. Sugar promotes cholesterol production, forcing your liver to make more bad cholesterol and inhibiting the body’s ability to clean it out. Sugar interferes with your brain’s ability to determine satiety, causing you to always feel famished. Studies link eating sugary sweets and fast food after just six years causes a 40% greater chance of developing depression.
- Eat Organic
In March, 2015 Consumer Reports published a special report that cited the CDC as saying the average American carries traces of 29 different pesticides in their body. There are over 600 chemicals registered for agricultural use in the U.S. Ninety percent of these chemicals have not been tested for long-term health effects before being approved as safe.
Studies of farmworkers who work with these chemicals frequently linked long-term pesticide exposure to increased risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, cancer, including prostate and ovarian, birth defects, respiratory issues, fertility issues, and many other acute and chronic diseases.
Behind farmworkers, children are at the most risk from pesticide exposure. Children are closer to the ground, take more breaths per minute than an adult, and their livers are immature and unable to remove toxins as efficiently as an adult. Development, starting in the womb, is compromised when these toxic chemicals seep into a child’s organ system and their nervous system, causing behavior and cognitive problems.
Choosing organic is always the best choice for your health, the health of the people producing your food, and the environment. Most large grocery food chains are now carrying a wider variety of organic foods. Organic foods taste better, provide clean nutrition, reduce pollution and protect water and soil, and preserve agricultural diversity. Your body knows exactly what to do with the organic food that you ingest and your liver in particular, can get to work eliminating built up toxins in your system.
- Eat Raw Food
Many anthropologists believe that behind building language skills, cooking is the greatest leap in human history. Humans learned that by cooking roots & herbs, they can be rendered palatable and safe from poisons and bacteria. We also learned the benefits of cooking meat to make it edible and to preserve it.
There are, however, many studies that show a diet rich in raw and uncooked foods to be highly beneficial to all humans. Raw food retains its natural minerals and vitamins, phytonutrients, and enzymes. Enzymes significantly speed up the chemical processes of breaking down food during digestion so that it can be delivered to the body’s cells. These delicate proteins are easily destroyed when food is cooked at temperatures above 115 degrees.
While controversies abound among experts about the safety of a raw diet, most agree that humans can survive without cooking their food. The facts are that humans may have learned to control fire several hundred thousand years ago, but they did manage to survive until then eating raw plants, seeds and nuts, and there’s little reason to suggest that modern man can’t survive and in fact thrive, by adopting a raw diet.
Adopting a raw diet is simply eating more foods in their real or natural state. Benefits of a raw diet include being naturally low in sodium and free of added sugars. Raw diets are also free of preservatives, pesticides and other chemicals, and GMO’s. Uncooked vegetables retain their potent cancer-fighting compounds and build strong immune systems.
- Eat Healthy Fats
Contrary to what many dieticians have recommended for more than 40 years, our body needs fat to function at peak capacity. Fats are essential to energy and cell growth. Fat aids in hormone production and it helps your body absorb nutrition. Fats are part of the myelin which is the fatty material that covers our nerve cells so that they can send electrical messages. Our brains are composed of copious amounts of essential fats. Healthy skin, nails, and hair require fat to retain their elasticity and flexibility.
Eating healthy fats does not make you fat. Studies consistently show that eating diets high in fat and low in carbohydrates lead to significantly more weight loss than low-fat diets. Saturated fats have not been proven to cause heart disease. A major study reported by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010 found no association in saturated fat consumption and increased risk for heart disease.
Recent research shows that 30% of your total daily caloric intake should be made of healthy fats. You can obtain healthy fat from olive oil, butter, (NOT margarine!) avocados, coconut oil, almond butter, grass-fed beef, and yogurt.
- Stop Eating Refined Carbohydrates
Refined carbohydrates are plant-based foods that are highly processed in order to have the whole grain removed. The process of refining a food removes the fiber, B-complex vitamins, healthy oils and fat-soluble vitamins, all important components of a healthy diet. Refined carbs include wheat and other grains, table sugar, or sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, and all the foods that are made with these ingredients.
Foods made from refined grains and sugars have valuable minerals and phytonutrients stripped from them during the refining process. While an attempt is made to add in the lost nutrients, countless known and undiscovered nutrients are lost.
Our food provides at thermic effect when it is metabolized and it accounts for about ten percent of your total daily energy expenditure. Real, complex food requires your digestive system to work harder and also requires your liver to contribute to the breakdown of food into the molecules needs to be sent to your cells for nourishment. Complex carbohydrates and fiber require more than double the energy to metabolize than refined carbs.
Negative health effects like weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes all stem from a diet high in refined carbohydrates. Refined and simple sugars lead to blood sugar spikes that stress your pancreas and liver when trying to manage the spikes with insulin. These foods are low in nutrients and low in fiber. Almost all breads that you find in major grocery store chains are made of enriched and bleached flours and their ingredient lists include added vitamins and minerals that were stripped out of the original grain when it was refined.
We recommend that you do some personal research and then have a long discussion with your health care provider about your diet and the effects of your medicines on it. Remember, you are in charge of your health. Your health care provider is a valuable resource, but you are the one who has to walk the walk and live the decisions that you make every day. Make sure you understand the recommendations that your provider gives you and then do your own research on how nutrition and activity supplement your health.
Food is life. We are fortunate in America to have a multitude of choices when it comes to stocking our pantries and feeding our families. If you want to make better food choices or want to learn more about any of the topics addressed in this article, please email us!