The ‘Standard American Diet’ (S.A.D.), is quite sad indeed. Likewise, the ‘Standard UK Diet’, or S.U.K. Diet, is not much better. Obesity rates in the US are at 34% of all adults or 78 million people! Child obesity rates are over 17%. The UK is the “fat man of Europe”, with obesity at 25% of adults . Now 3 times higher than in the 1980’s, it’s getting worse everyday. Obesity related diseases include heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes and cancer. In the US the obesity related health costs are estimated at $178 billion per year!1
What’s Causing This Obesity Crisis?
Eating too much and doing too little is commonly blamed. But eating too much of what? For some real answers, lets take a look at the USDA’s “food pyramid” diagram used as the standard guide in American diets.
Various illustrations have been used since 1943. Revisions were made in 2005 when it was changed to the “MyPyramid” guide and in 2010 it changed again to “MyPlate”. Despite the variations of the graphics, the same bad dietary advice has remained. In fact, the 1992 food pyramid was copied directly from Sweden’s food pyramid. At the time, Sweden had an even higher rate of heart disease deaths than the US!
The common theme of all versions is a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fats. Notice that the highest recommendations are for the “Bread, Cereal, Rice & Pasta Group or Grains.” Coincidentally, this is also the group with the most “processed foods.” And also “Dairy” is always a large portion.
“Processed foods” are the most unnatural foods, usually with the most harmful added ingredients (additional sugars, preservatives, dyes and “bad” fats like saturated and trans fats). In contrast, “whole foods” are foods with only 1 ingredient (corn, apple, chicken, cucumber, etc.). These help reduce cholesterol, regulate blood sugars, reduce risk for diabetes and maintain weight.
Whole foods are nutrient dense and processed foods are energy dense. The difference is that nutrient dense foods provide important nutrients for your body such as fiber, vitamins and minerals with low added sugar and fat. Energy dense foods are high calorie foods that provide very little nutrition to your body.
Low Nutrient Foods are the Highest Recommended??
The US government’s food advice is directly based on the USDA’s guidelines. However, the most factual and relevant studies have NOT been used to create these guidelines. In fact, there is no real proof to support the recommended guidelines, yet they’ve been used for several decades! Most credible research shows that a high carbohydrate, low fat diet does not lead to healthy outcomes. On the contrary, research shows that a high fat, low carbohydrate diet is much more beneficial. Yet, this is ignored.²
The USDA’s original recommendations were intended to have much higher fruit and vegetable servings, however to please the food industry more grains and processed foods were added. Pressure from the food manufacturing industry has always influenced the USDA’s recommendations, going back as far as the late 1800’s.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the US government began a push to fight malnutrition and eventually expanded into other areas of health and nutrition. Relying on unproven theories that all fat was harmful for heart health, key recommendations were made to raise carbohydrate consumption and lower fat intake. This is also about the same time when disease rates began to sharply rise!³
Still today, the food pyramid serves as marketing tool for big agriculture and food processing. The huge weight of the food industry has influenced the policy making process and USDA’s guidelines. As a result it’s widely endorsed by the media, schools, physicians and nutritionists as an authority for nutrition information.
Perhaps too many Americans follow the food pyramid and that’s why they end up overweight! Unfortunately, many other countries have followed in line with the American model. Sweden on the other hand has recently reversed it’s course and endorsed a high fat, low carb approach.
You could say that the original food pyramid should be flipped upside down, then it would be better suited to our health! Take a look at the more sensible versions from Harvard:4