Return of America’s Erratic Nutritional Guidelines

Last week, America’s nutrition advisory panel met in order to develop a new set of nutritional guidelines for the American public. This panel meets once every five years, and is composed of prominent doctors and nutrition experts, with the sole responsibility of determining a set of nutritional guidelines to recommend to the federal government.

Members of this committee have performed human clinical research and read thousands of studies in order to understand the cause-and-effect relationship between diet and human health. Just last week they set forth the following three recommendations:

Recommendation #1: Reduce Sugar Intake to Less Than 10% of Total Calories

sugar-lips2

For the past 10-15 years, Americans have been instructed to eat a low-fat diet in order to reduce the rate of heart disease. In response, food manufacturers loaded packaged products with excessive sugar and sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup, resulting in increased rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Now the time has come to strongly reduce sugar intake, and to force food manufacturers to adopt a more sensible approach.

Few people will argue that eating less sugar will improve your overall health. Personally, I am glad to see that they have taken an aggressive stance at reducing the amount of added sugar in the diets of millions of Americans.

Recommendation #2: Eat Less Saturated Fat; Do Not Limit Total Fat Intake

Fit young woman fighting off fast foodWhile the government is aware that increased intake of saturated fat may accelerate the development of heart disease, instructing Americans to eat as much fat as they want is downright foolish.

This recommendation is a perfect example of the erratic nature of America’s nutritional guidelines:

When fat was the enemy, we turned a blind eye to sugar. Now that sugar is the enemy, we are turning a blind eye to fat.

Previously, Americans were advised to limit fat intake to 35% of total calories. Today, that recommendation is being rewritten, and Americans may soon be instructed to eat as much fat as they desire, while “opting” for unsaturated plant fats when possible. This stance strengthens the narrative of the Paleo community, a group of eaters who advocate behaving the way our Paleolithic ancestors did, by consuming large quantities of meat products containing copious amounts of saturated fat.

The problem with this all-you-can-eat-fat-buffet philosophy is simple: it completely negates the effect of excessive fat intake on the development of insulin resistance (1–19), IGF-1 imbalance (20,21), colon cancer (22,23) and all-cause mortality (24,25).

A substantial body of evidence supports the fact that even modest fat intake is associated with elevated rates of type 2 diabetes (1–19) and colon cancer (22,23).

 

Despite this compelling evidence, the government chooses to pay attention to only one condition: heart disease. And as long as dietary fat isn’t directly correlated with heart disease, then the recommendation to participate in the all-you-can-eat-fat-buffet will continue.

The question still remains: why have our nutritional guidelines become erratic?

Recommendation #3: Do Not Limit Cholesterol Intake

High-CholesterolIt turns out that cholesterol metabolism is more complicated than we once thought. While the amount of cholesterol in your blood is influenced both by what you eat and by how much your liver produces, recent evidence suggests that your liver is more in charge than we once thought.

What is the “normal” LDL (bad) cholesterol level?

Recent evidence suggests that “accumulating data from multiple lines of evidence consistently demonstrate that the physiologically normal LDL level and the thresholds for atherosclerosis development and CHD events are approximately 50-70 mg/dL (26).”

  • This amount of LDL cholesterol is what we are born with
  • This amount of LDL cholesterol is what our closest primate ancestors maintain
  • This amount of LDL cholesterol is found in populations free of heart disease

Given that atherosclerosis is endemic in our population, it is important to clearly define the threshold for increased risk.
The problem is that only a tiny fraction of people actually have LDL concentrations between 50-70 mg/dL.

In America especially, the average LDL concentration is 130 mg/dL, almost twice the normal physiological level, suggesting that a large proportion of the US population has abnormally high cholesterol levels (26).

 

It just so turns out that populations subsisting on plant-based diets naturally achieve LDL concentrations of about 70 mg/dL, without even trying (27–29). Therefore, recommending that Americans consume dietary cholesterol carte blanche negates the connection between elevated cholesterol and heart disease altogether.

If the previous recommendation to eat an unlimited amount of fat was foolish, the recommendation to eat an unlimited amount of cholesterol is simply irresponsible.

Recommendation #4: Plant Based Diets are Healthy Eating Patterns

mushrooms-with-asparagus-72px

Well how convenient.

Finally, prominent health care organizations such as the American Dietetic Association (30) are starting to espouse the health benefits of plant-based diets. As more research continues to demonstrate the efficacy of plant-based diets in reversing disease and in promoting optimal heart health (31–34), health care organizations may have no choice but to adopt plant-centric positions in the near future.

I remain optimistic that America can move towards plant-based diets in the near future, and strong stances like this can certainly help promote this message to the masses.

Take Home Message

The main problem with this finger-pointing approach is that every few years a new nutrition enemy is born. If you choose to operate under the assumption that poor health can be attributed to a single dietary component, then you will find limitless opportunities to assign blame.

However, common sense and volumes of scientific research suggest that America’s obesity, heart disease and diabetes epidemics do not stem from one single cause, and rather are the result of multiple lifestyle factors, including (but not limited to):

  • Physical activity
  • Stress
  • Dietary fat
  • Dietary cholesterol
  • Fiber consumption
  • Vitamin D production
  • Abdominal obesity
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood sugar control

When these new nutrition recommendations get put into play in the next few months, I have a strong suspicion that they will get rewritten in the next five years, once data becomes available to demonstrate that eating excessive quantities of dietary fat and excessive quantities of dietary cholesterol are only serving to feed America’s obesity, heart disease and diabetes epidemics.

As long as sugar is our new enemy, fat and cholesterol are being granted the opportunity to silently damage our health, only to resurface as enemies in the not-so-distant future.

References

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About The Author

Cyrus Khambatta

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 22, I have spent over a decade learning the fundamentals of nutrition at the doctorate level. My goal is to share my knowledge of practical nutrition and fitness with people with prediabetes, type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is an OPPORTUNITY to attain excellent health. Reversing the effects of insulin resistance can be a fun and enjoyable process if the right system is in place. That's why I've spent over 10 years developing a rock solid system that can minimize blood glucose variability and insulin resistance.

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