Friday, March 1, 2019

Retrospective #13: Is Our Diet Really Changing?

How, you might ask, can we reliably determine or measure if our diet is really changing for the better in a meaningful way. Consumer food questionnaires are reliably unreliable and therefore useless. And most other “surveys” are suspect because they are funded by vested interests. The method I’ll use here is to see, over the years – especially recent years – if the Dietary Guidelines have changed, ever so slightly, for better or worse.
In December 2014, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, appointed by the USDA/HHS, wrote, “Dietary Cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” This happened after this column first appeared in 2011, and this nugget didn’t make it in verbatim, but the 2015 Guidelines did drop the 300mg of dietary cholesterol daily maximum recommended in all previous Guidelines. A single egg yolk has 212mg of cholesterol. Whole eggs contain all of the essential amino acids for humans (and chicks). Loaded with vitamins and minerals, whole eggs are an inexpensive source of both fat and protein. And pastured egg sales are on the rise.
Since their inception in 1980 the Guidelines have always recommended that our diet be mostly carbohydrates and therefore mostly plant-based. Plants are carbs, mostly. Animal foods are, mostly, proteins and fats – by definition, saturated fat. Saturated fats are normally solid at room temperature. Most fats made from plants are unsaturated and liquid. A few plant fats are majority monounsaturated fat, but most plant fats are majority polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). Seed oils, like corn, Canola and soy bean oil, misleadingly called “vegetable oils” are mostly PUFAs.
From the beginning, the Guidelines recommended we eat a diet, by calorie, of 60% carbohydrate, 10% protein, and no more than 30% fat, mostly plant-based, unsaturated fats (oils). On the Nutrition Facts panel on processed foods, for women this amounts to a daily dose of 300g of carbs (1,200kcal), 50g of protein (200kcal) and +/-67g (600kcal) of fat, on 2,000kcal a day. For men it’s 375g of carbs (1,500kcal), 62.5g protein (250kcal) and 83g (750kcal) of fat.
In reality, most people were not eating a mostly plant-based diet. As omnivores, we actually ate a diet that was about 15% protein, 55% carbohydrate and 30% fat, including, as meat-eaters, both saturated and unsaturated fat.
The problem with those plant-based guidelines are 2-fold: As we know, commercial feed lots fatten beef by feeding them carbs (corn). And corn and other carbs, when they comprise 55 to 60% of our human diet, make us fat too. But if the percentage from carbs needs to be lower, what’s a mostly-plant based Guideline to do? Eating more protein is problematic. And #2, most protein is animal based, and thus comes with saturated fat. protein is also more expensive, and a normally active person doesn’t need more than 15% to 20% dietary protein to be healthy.
Well, again in 2015, in tacit recognition of their too-high recommendation for dietary carbohydrates, with much lip biting, the Guidelines dropped the recommendation to limit dietary fat to <30% of total calories, but doubled down on the source of those fats. They strongly recommended we eat plant-based polyunsaturated oils (PUFAs), and continued their recommendation to avoid animal-based saturated fat – without mentioning its cholesterol content.
But that was progress. It recognized that, as a population, we should eat fewer carbohydrates, especially refined carbs and added sugars. The 2010 American Heart Association guidelines pointed out that added sugars (note: all sugars are 100% carbohydrate) should be limited. The 2015 the Dietary Guidelines were not far behind.
 And we all know now to avoid trans fats. Margarine, as originally made, was partially hydrogenated vegetable oils aka trans fats. We ate margarine to avoid butter, which is a mostly “saturated” fat (66% saturated, 30% mono, and 4% PUFA). But, trans fats are still found in baked goods on the grocery store, just below the reporting threshold.
The processed food industry/big government cabal are now trying to lump trans fats together with saturated fat, and by association taint saturated fats (as if they thought the public needed to hear it further declaimed!). So, saturated fats remain the “bad boy” of fats. That will be the last major battleground of Guidelines reform.
So, there’s hope. Butter sales are on the rise again, and eggs from pastured chickens are in the farmers’ markets. I even overheard a segment on NBC’s Today Show recently that advocated “eat fat to lose fat.” Now, I ask you: How far off can the shift to real “healthy eating” be if mainstream news is willing to promote a crackpot idea like that? 

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