So what happened in 1980? The USDA issued high-carbohydrate low-fat dietary guidelines. From a historical perspective, Americans in general were already eating an unusually high-carbohydrate diet in 1980. We now exercise more, but the effects of eating more carbohydrates along with a deficiency of quality fats has resulted in an obesity epidemic.
Unfortunately, the health effects extend far beyond obesity and they affect thin people as well. Since 1980, incidence of Type 2 diabetes has more than doubled and approximately 86 million Americans have become pre-diabetic. Incidence of types of dementia and cancers has increased. Heart disease is still the primary cause of death, even though statins are prescribed to the point where these drugs have become at least a 25 billion dollar industry.
Of course USDA recommendations did not cause this health crisis. The USDA never suggested that we should consume more than 100 pounds of sugar per year. The problems are complex and there are many factors. However, the USDA is influential and could easily do much to turn the crisis around. If they do not, it would be better if they stopped making dietary recommendations.
The USDA suggests that saturated fats be severely restricted, even though there is no valid scientific evidence showing that saturated fats are not healthy. Fats they recommend include heat-processed polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as from corn and soy. The USDA’s SuperTracker website suggests not eating butter and instead including margarine and mayonnaise in your diet. Fats in these products have a high omega-6 content, contributing to a general deficiency in healthy omega-3 fats. It is much better to get quality fats from olives, nuts, and avocados and avoid processed foods altogether. Saturated fat from coconuts is also healthy.
Effects of high-carbohydrate low-fat diets are well known. For purposes of study, scientists induce metabolic syndrome in rats by feeding them a high carbohydrate diet. To reverse the symptoms, they provide a ketogenic diet. These effects have been demonstrated in human studies as well and there is becoming much popular documentation. Many well-referenced books have become best sellers, such as Wheat Belly Total Health, Grain Brain, and The Big Fat Surprise. Given the knowledge, it is frustrating that the USDA has not taken meaningful action to help resolve this.
There are probably several reasons that the USDA and many nutritionists have been slow to change. Paradigm shifts can take time and a general change to low-carbohydrate eating will cause a significant disruption to food and pharmaceutical industries. For many years people have seen high-carbohydrate food promoted by government and industry. For instance, many now believe that high-glycemic breakfast cereals can lower the risk of heart disease since many of them are labeled “Heart Healthy”. High-carbohydrate diets are still often considered prudent and the word “extreme” is often used to label alternatives. There is cognitive dissonance.
We can all have some effect in reversing the trends. The USDA is modifying the dietary guidelines this year. I think it could be helpful to engage in conversations with the USDA with comments to posts on their MyPlate Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MyPlate). What I am seeing is, when they post messages suggesting fat-free milk or eating only lean protein, there are re-shares from medical institutions and nutritionists without comment. It surprises me there is not more comment on the MyPlate icon itself, where one of the two absolutely essential macro-nutrients is not even shown. More critical comment is needed. Unfortunately, the USDA is no longer accepting officially submitted public comments for the 2015 dietary guidelines revision.
Also, see 2.5 minutes of the big fat lie: