An Opsimath post.
The food pyramid.
The low fat paradigm.
Is everything we knew about food totally wrong ?.
I first met the food pyramid diagram in around 1982 when i was a first year student nurse and then rapidly forgot all about it because it was never going to that important in practice : it did however impinge on my actual knowledge about food and looking back it did become how i thought about food choices. One of the key things though is the emphasis that was placed on ‘good’ foods and ‘bad’ ones : grains and cereals were all important as were vegetables, lean meat was sort-of ‘ok’ but fatty cuts, red meat, and all fats generally were very bad…..my favourite foods of course were beyond bad !. The only part of this that might still be true is that highly processed foods containing lots of sugar almost definitely are bad to baddest…….the rest of it might not just be wrong but utter bollocks level wrong !.
So here i am today at 61, overweight to technically obese, hypertensive and one knee replacement behind me and i’m seriously pissed off with most of the medical profession and all of the food industry : i’m pretty mad at myself too for not examining spurious claims about food and diet too. Ok, so iv’e always had a sweet tooth and for a lot of my life iv’e made some pretty bad food choices and i do consider it my responsibility to see what i can do about turning it all around. The one thing i’m really kicking myself for is that i do know the basic science of carbohydrate metabolism and insulin, i’m ok on protein but have always been a bit sketchy about fat which again kind-of mirrors the food pyramid in that i know most about the base, little about the top but nothing up until now about why the pyramid might be upside down ; in fact, everything that i thought i knew might be wrong.
I have had periods in my life when i have been fit to very fit for that age group, largely because iv’e always been an outdoorsman and walked a lot as a routine ; aside from walking and long distance hiking iv’e been an extreme grade climber and once, in my fifty’s got seriously into fitness for it’s own sake. I learnt a lot about fitness and training at that time but kind-of ignored diet except for my eating pattern around heavy gym sessions ; i was probably working with the idea that i could out train my diet because i always lost weight and waist when i was on the trail or when i trained hard. As with many other ‘fit’ people my weight rebounded hard once i stopped training hard and for me the last couple of years have been a train-wreck for diet and ‘fitness’ even though iv’e been cranking out heavy days working on our property and gardens.
Back to that pyramid.
In 1982 i’m sure i saw a version of the food pyramid on our lecturers slide but i don’t remember anything about it’s origins ; in fact the first version came out in around 1972 and had been formulated by the Swedish national board for health and welfare and following that i think it was heavily pushed in the USA by the USDA…..which is actually the US department of Agriculture and certainly not any kind of ‘health’ board ; now, is it just me or do i smell a big stinky rat in the room ?….why for example would a board of agriculture want to promote the eating of cereals, grains bread etc ?….i think we have a bit of a ‘duh’ moment here !. So, with no evidence base whatsoever a very powerful and influential industry decides that our diet should be 55-75 % based on their product ie carbohydrates. Lets say that the good citizens of the USA took that advice and ate like that from say the 1970’s onwards ; how did they get on with it and what did it do for their health ?……today 93 million of them are obese ; that’s around 40% of the entire US population and i didn’t pluck that number out of thin air, that’s what the CDC says *.
Down the rabbit hole we go……
I’m not going to spend too long here because i really want to get into the evidence for and against the ‘American’ recommended diet with it’s emphasis on high carbohydrate intake. That advice as iv’e discovered came from a board that regulates, promotes and subsidizes American agriculture ; especially the big players …the wheat, rice and corn growers. The weird thing here is how the medical profession then got on board and aside from a few brave individuals ever questioned the evidence or lack thereof. In a very ‘scratch the surface’ search i found this quote ; i’ll leave it here and then get on with the main stuff that i want to talk about today.
“The federal government spends more than $20 billion a year on subsidies for farm businesses. About 39 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million farms receive subsidies, with the lion’s share of the handouts going to the largest producers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice. “
The healthy cereals and grains paradigm.
Most of us know how this goes, that sugar is bad and yet ‘healthy’ grains and cereals are somehow ‘good’ despite them being largely the same thing : what i mean there is that cereals and grains are mostly longer chain carbohydrates that are broken down in the body and basically absorbed as sugar…..the body doesn’t recognise any difference except that the glycaemic index is slightly longer ie they take a bit longer to achieve the same insulin response….but they do elicit the same physiological response.
The weird thing about this is that doctors surely understand the basic science : that carbohydrates are carbohydrates, end of story, and that the metabolic pathway always has to include insulin because that’s how the glucose molecule enters the cell, any cell, and it’s also basic science that insulin also prevents the release of fatty acids from the cell. Frequent ingestion of ‘healthy’ cereals and/or any high carbohydrate snacks is always going to elicit the same physiological response which is going to be to store the excess glucose as glycogen first and then fat….fat everywhere, not just in fat cells but in places where we really don’t want it such as the liver. Once again….the same response stops the fat cells from releasing fat ; a double whammy if there ever was one.
But….and i can hear you saying that….but….so why do most doctors toe the line and continue telling their patients that a diet high in carbohydrates is healthy when the evidence against that is absolutely shocking ie that some 40% of the entire US population has swallowed the message and is seriously obese as a direct result.
What if …..so, what if most doctors are wrong ? , what if high carbohydrate diets aren’t just wrong but lethally wrong ?, what if it was carbs all along and not fat that was always the problem ?
- That it is the high carbohydrate diet paradigm that is directly responsible for the high rates of obesity in the west and ditto type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and so on.
- What if the opposite is true….that a diet low in carbohydrates is actually a lot better for the human body and mind ?
- What if fats, saturated fats especially, are nothing like as harmful as the scare stories would have us believe ?
I think today we are still in the same kind of position with the food industry and the medical profession that we were with smoking about 40 years ago…..that anyone who suggested that smoking was bad for us was pooh-poohed by the tobacco industry and large sections of the medical ‘profession’.
My new facebook page to discuss this kind of thing : https://www.facebook.com/groups/524455598277075/
- CDC…Center for Disease Control “The prevalence of obesity was 39.8% and affected about 93.3 million of US adults in 2015~2016. [Read CDC National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data briefCdc-pdf PDF-603KB]”