|June 21, 2018||0|
The USDA’s dietary guidelines are a bit like the Batman movies. There was the version with Christian Bale, and the versions with Val Kilmer, Michael Keaton, Ben Affleck, and my favorite, Lego Batman with Will Arnett. Depending on who you ask, one version is better than the rest, though some will say none of those versions were that great.
Since the 1940s, the USDA dietary guidelines have also gone through a few changes. There was the “Basic 7” wheel poster, “The Basic 4” (guess 3 of the basics weren’t so basic), and the one we all know well, the “Food Guide Pyramid” (and its 2005 version “MyPyramid.” The USDA’s latest edition is called “MyPlate.”
If you ask the US government, they’d no doubt say all these variations were pretty good, while myself and others would say none are that great. Their first guidelines were meant to keep all of us healthy from chronic disease by having us cut back on saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar and sodium. If those early versions were so good, why did the rates of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease rise significantly over the past few decades?
For instance, the obesity rate has almost doubled since 1980 , is now between 31 and 35 percent, and nearly one out of every four deaths in this country is from heart disease. 
One significant reason that the rates went up is because we all replaced fat with low-fat junk food, high in carbohydrates. And our own government endorsed these kinds of foods when it unveiled the food pyramid in 1992.
Foods like bread, cereal, rice and pasta formed the base of the pyramid, suggesting that carbs should make up the majority of one’s diet. But they got it wrong, really wrong, and the rates of disease in this country are more than enough proof. It’s time that all of us, including the government, change the way we think about food.
The government believes it has done this and believes it is addressing the current public health crisis by overhauling their dietary guidelines. Gone is the familiar food pyramid most of us grew up with and in its place is the “new and improved” food plate.
“Top administration officials within the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, who were tasked with writing the guidelines, decided not to include some of the recommendations made by a Dietary Guidelines advisory panel that reviewed the latest nutrition science.” – Allison Aubrey.
The Good, the Bad, and the Really Bad
Unveiling the new food plate back in 2011, first lady Michelle Obama said, “This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we’re eating.” Here’s what the new poster looks like:
This new version has a couple of things going for it. Well, it’s very colorful and pleasing to look at. Plus, it has that fun sneaker in the corner. From a nutrition standpoint, it emphasizes smaller portion sizes overall. This is a helpful reminder to people who believe that the monstrous servings set down in front of them at many chain restaurants are appropriate.
The second thing the new food plate has going for it is that it encourages people to eat more fruits and vegetables. I don’t have to have to tell you why that’s a good thing.
These points not withstanding, I am in agreement with many people who have voiced their opinions that the new guidelines have a long way to go before they truly address the many health crises we face in this country.
Not All Fat is Bad
For example, the new guidelines are still demonizing all fats based on old information linking saturated fat with high cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Recent studies are now breaking the link between saturated fats and high cholesterol and other health issues.  In fact, by avoiding beneficial fats, we may be doing more harm than good.
The new food plate recommends replacing whole milk with skim milk (same old tired suggestion), but some studies have found whole milk over skim milk may play a role in reducing the risk of developing diabetes. 
Can We Talk About Processed Garbage?
Here’s the thing, people need to stop eating processed junk food, fast food, and refined packaged foods, and start focusing on real food. That’s where the real epidemic lies. To focus so heavily on what specific nutrients we should be eating is missing the point. There needs to be more education about how much of the food in this country is processed and how much sugar, damaged fats, and chemicals are in those foods.
Can We Please Get a Grip on Grains?
It would take someone to actually go to the government website and a click a few clicks to actually get a message that explains half of the grains you should be eating should be whole grains, not refined. Now how many people are actually going to bother to do that?
The truth is, people hear the word grains, or read the word on a poster, and to them that means bread and pasta. This just isn’t good enough. The amount of refined carbohydrates recommended by the government is still way too much. Overconsumption of these grains can lead to inflammation, high blood sugar, and diseases like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Grains and simple carbohydrates are part of what got us into this health epidemic in the first place.
I have created my own food plate, which I believe is a much more sensible approach to eating for health.
The first thing you may notice is I do not even have the word “grains” on there, but instead low glycemic carbohydrates. Nowhere do you see the words pasta, cereals, or bread either. These foods are patently bad for our health.
I also list the kinds of non-starchy vegetables people should be focusing on, otherwise people would be loading up on corn and potatoes.
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” – G.K. Chesterton
This is the type of diet I typically recommend to my clients and people with blood sugar problems. I have seen a dramatic change in my clients’ health by following this type of plan. They come to me with diabetes, obesity, and inflammation, and after a few months of eating like this and making other lifestyle modifications, they’re become leaner and healthier, often completely reversing their type 2 or pre-diabetes. That’s how powerful food is.
 World Health Organization Fact Sheet no. 311
 CDC, NCHS. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2013 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released 2015. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2013, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed Feb. 3, 2015.
 Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease, Am J Clin Nutr 2010 Mar;91(3):535-46. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27725. Epub 2010 Jan 13. [NIH]