A disturbing turn of events took place on my birthday, January 14, 1977. It is one of many examples of the government attempting to influence Americans’ decisions with guidance based on opinion and politics rather than scientific evidence.
I’m referring to the publication of the first version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Like the subjects of gun control, social justice, or mass vaccinations, the government’s influence on our dietary choices is based more heavily on opinions and money than real scientific evidence.
After 20 years in health and fitness, I can’t help associating my birthday with George McGovern’s “gift” to Americans: the Dietary Goals for the United States.
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The Dietary Goals of 1977
I’ve been less surprised by the government’s misuse of the term “science” than many, as I’ve seen them misuse the term for the past 20 years I’ve been a health and fitness professional.
George McGovern did just that when he pushed through his committee’s report on January 14, 1977.
The report outlined the goals as follows:
- Increase carbohydrate consumption to account for 55 to 60 percent of the energy (caloric) intake.
- Reduce overall fat consumption from approximately 40 to 30 percent energy intake.
- Reduce saturated fat consumption to account for about 10 percent of total energy intake; and balance that with poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats, which should account for about 10 percent of energy intake.
- Reduce cholesterol consumption to about 300 mg. a day.
- Reduce sugar consumption by about 40 percent to account for about 15 percent of total energy intake.
- Reduce salt consumption by about 50 to 85 percent to approximately 3 grams a day.
Also, the report outlined guidelines for food selection and preparation:
- Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
- Decrease consumption of meat and increase consumption of poultry and fish.
- Decrease consumption of foods high in fat and partially substitute polyunsaturated fat for saturated fat.
- Substitute non-fat milk for whole milk.
- Decrease consumption of butterfat, eggs and other high cholesterol sugars.
- Decrease consumption of sugar and foods high in sugar content.
- Decrease consumption of salt and foods high in salt content.
These dietary goals and guidelines formed the basis of the Dietary Guidelines For Americans, the Food Pyramid, and, more recently, My Plate.
Imagine you’re a manufacturer of processed foods. This is like hitting the jackpot! A government-recommended nutrition strategy that minimizes protein (which is expensive and difficult to preserve) and maximizes consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods, which are inexpensive and easy to make in a variety of forms and flavors.
The Politics of Nutritional Science
Over the past 44 years, we’ve continually been told to eat less fat and cholesterol and more carbohydrate-rich foods.
Yet, the evidence for all of these recommendations stems from observational data, or population-based data. Any college freshman could tell you that observational research can never show cause and effect.
The focus on fat began with an observation that in some countries, the populations eat more saturated fat and have more heart disease, while in some other countries, they eat less fat and suffer less saturated fat.
By choosing the right countries to build his case, Ancel Keys from the University of Minnesota showed a correlation between higher saturated fat intakes and heart disease. Keys made his case by cherry-picking the data and publishing his Seven Countries Study.
Gary Taubes, in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories, shredded this pseudo-science. If you want to read nutrition science, I can’t recommend this book enough. As a matter of fact, I expected every dietitian I hired while I was the Senior Director of Nutrition and Weight Management at Life Time to read the book.
The point is this:
- McGovern’s report was based on minimal science, even though it was called an “evidence-based” report. The committee used epidemiological evidence.
- Since 1977, the guidelines have changed somewhat and have been heavily influenced by special interests more than scientific evidence.
- If anything, following the government’s dietary guidelines increases your chance of becoming overweight, developing diabetes, needing to depend on medications, and developing a host of other health problems.
We’ve been primed and conditioned for 45 years to believe fat (and more recently meat) is bad, carbs are good. It’s wrong.
Experience Versus Epidemiology
If the dietary guidelines work, why do so many diet, weight loss, and fitness plans veer away from them?
Because the guidelines don’t work for those who want to maximize their health and minimize their risk of disease.
Over the past 20 years, those who stay fit and relatively lean maintain a few basic habits. They:
- Prioritize protein, which tends to crowd out extra, unnecessary fat and carbohydrate.
- Strength train consistently, so they build muscle, which is where you store the carbs you eat.
- Get enough sleep to maintain a healthy hormonal balance.
Unfortunately, the guidelines to this day underplay the importance of protein, make people afraid of hormone-supporting dietary fat, and overemphasize the diabetes-inducing, blood pressure-raising, inflammation-stimulating, brain-destroying effects of excessive amounts of carbohydrates. They also make exercise and activity an afterthought instead of a non-negotiable.
My 2021 Birthday Wish
I’m writing this on my 45th birthday. In past years, I’ve used today to write something more personal and introspective.
This year, instead, I decided to use my birthday blog post as an opportunity to open your eyes.
Start with my free e-book, The First 3 Habits of VIGOR(ESS) Health. You’ll find that you can get healthier, leaner, and stronger, and you can eat (gluten-free) cake on more occasions than just your birthday.
Then, when you’re ready to go deeper, I recommend reading the following books (not affiliate links):
- Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes
- Ignore the Awkward! How the cholesterol myths are kept alive by Uffe Ravnskov
- Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food by Catherine Shanahan
- Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD
- The Great Cholesterol Con by Anthony Colpo
- The Great Cholesterol Con by Malcom Kendrick
- Fat Chance by Robert Lustig, MD
Just don’t be surprised when you realize that the government’s recommendations and guidelines are not in your best interest.
The First 3 Habits of VIGOR(ESS) Health
After 20 years of working with clients, I’ve realized your health and fitness depends more on these three habits than any others.