For over 30 years, our government and health agencies have told us that the solution to obesity is to eat less, mostly plants, and move more. Anytime the subject of nutrition comes up, someone is sure to quote Michael Pollen’s meme, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” The message has spread around the world and most people have come to believe that the traditional foods that nourished previous generations throughout most of human history are guilty pleasures that will damage their health and lead to weakness, heart disease, and an early demise.
The proposed 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) is due out in a matter of days. The DGA Advisory Committee’s report, if accepted as expected, will endorse three so called, healthy diets, all plant-based with lots of fruits, vegetables, and grains, some fat-free and low-fat dairy, no red meat, and 10% or less of calories from saturated fat. One of the three is a healthy vegetarian plan. The other two allow a small, optional amount of fish or chicken.
The new guidelines will include a few changes, for example, dietary cholesterol has been declared to be “no longer of concern,” and the upper limit on fat consumption has been quietly removed, but the message is still basically, “Eat, less, mostly plants, and move more.”
The defenders of the status quo, including the American Heart Association, are trying to get the report published before a deadline that may require that the guidelines be based on the “best scientific evidence available,” a standard none of the old versions nor the proposed new ones can remotely satisfy.
Since the first set of DGAs were released in 1980, we have experienced the greatest epidemic in human history. Two-thirds of Americans are now obese, diabetic, or pre-diabetic and that number is projected to affect a total of 366 million people by 2030.(1) Cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, auto-immune problems, explosive rage disorder, and many other diseases and conditions have also exploded in spite of the dramatic decline in smoking, the proliferation of new drugs, and faster, better emergency care.
And yet, our health agencies still insist the fault is not with their recommendations but that Americans are fat and sick because we are lazy gluttons who don’t have the will-power to follow their excellent guidelines. If we would all just eat less, mostly plants, and get more exercise, we would no longer be fat and sick. If only someone would conduct a study in which people actually followed their advice, then we could all see how well it works. But you would have to lock people up and carefully control what they ate, which would be impossible…oh, wait…that study has already been done.
A group of volunteers did exactly that, and unlike the rest of us, they could not cheat–at all. In 1991 a group of eight men and women agreed to live for two years in a self-contained biosphere. The dome was sealed so they could get nothing from the outside. The inhabitants planted, grew, and harvested all their own food. Their so-called healthy starvation diet consisted of fruits, a long list of vegetables, and nuts and legumes, plus a few eggs, some dairy from their goats, and a very small amount of fish and chicken. Only 10 percent of their calories came from fat and they ate meat only on Sundays. In order to keep the project running, each of them had to spend eighty hours per week in heavy, manual labor. The medical officer of the project, Roy Lee Walford, believed that calorie restriction was the key to longevity and he welcomed the chance to test his theory with a group of fellow lab rats. Walford said he hoped his low-fat, low-calorie diet would enable him to live to the age of 110.
Life in the bubble was far from idyllic. The Terranauts reported constant hunger and became bitter and quarrelsome. (The experiment became the inspiration for the reality show called, Big Brother.) The pictures of Walford before and after his two years in the dome show a fit, healthy man who looks much younger than his 67 years when he entered and one who looks emaciated, haggard, and close to death when he emerged. He died of Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 79.
From the book, Spring Chicken, Stay Young or Die Trying, by Bill Gifford.(2) Read more here.
The status quo is no longer defensible. Too many people have discovered that they can lose weight, normalize blood lipids, reduce or eliminate medications, reverse diabetes, and improve their health by doing the exact opposite of what they have been told to do and they are happily spreading the good news. (The 2010 guidelines received 2,000 public comments; the 2015 report had 29,000.)
Adding fuel to the controversy, a scathing article questioning whether the guidelines are based on science was published in the prestigious British Medical Journal. It was written by Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise. Click here to read the whole report, titled, The scientific report guiding the US dietary guidelines: is it scientific?
Below are two excerpts from the BMJ article:
“…The BMJ has also found that the committee’s report used weak scientific standards, reversing recent efforts by the government to strengthen the scientific review process. This backsliding seems to have made the report vulnerable to internal bias as well as outside agendas….”
“…Moreover, although the NEL conducted eight reviews on fruits and vegetables, none found strong (grade 1) evidence to support the assertion that these foods can provide health benefits…” (The NEL is the Nutrition Evidence Library, set up by the USDA–JBB.)
Nutrition expert, Professor Arne Astrup, had this to say about the DGA Advisory Committee:
”…the committee seems to be completely dissociated from the top level scientific community, and unaware of the most updated evidence. There are now several new meta-analyses of both observational studies and also of randomized controlled trials clearly showing that there is no benefit of reducing saturated fat in the diet….”
Equally important, he wrote,
“…is that the scientific studies that were the basis for the ‘cut down on saturated fat’ recommendations have been re-evaluated, and it is quite clear that today we would have concluded that there is no robust evidence to substantiate the advice….The same applies to the importance of carbohydrate amount and source. Reducing total carbs or selecting the low glycemic index carbohydrates are well documented tools to produce weight loss and treat type 2 diabetes, and there is quite good evidence for efficacy and safety.”
So, will this be the year everything changes? Or will the defenders of the lipid hypothesis continue to drag its sorry carcass on for another five years to allow those who are profiting from the scams that surround it to find a new plan?
- Wild S, Roglic G, Green A, Sicree R, King H. Global prevalence of diabetes: estimates for the year 2000 and projections for 2030. Diabetes Care, 2004 May: 27(5):1047-53
- Spring Chicken, How to Stay Young Forever or Die Trying,by Bill Gifford, Copyright (c) 2015
Post Script: Victory!
This just in: “…lawmakers included language in the spending bill that bars the departments from finalizing the guidelines (DGAs) until they’ve ensured that each recommendation is based on significant scientific agreement and limited in scope to nutritional and dietary information.” Read it here: http://thehill.com/regulation/healthcare/263522-omnibus-calls-for-probe-of-dietary-guidelines-advisory-committee
(c) 2015, Judy Barnes Baker