Patients of mine often find modern dietary guidelines confusing. To understand why, we have to understand how they developed.
From those meetings came the very first set of U.S. Dietary Guidelines in 1977. The Federal Government updated these guidelines roughly every five years.
From the beginning, a low-fat dogma prevailed, even though we now know much of this research came from flawed research and vague, discredited studies.
These guidelines got a few things correct. They recommended Americans protect themselves against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases with more poultry, fish, fruit, and vegetables.
Unfortunately though, they provided way more missteps. These guidelines urged Americans to increase their carbohydrate intake to 55 to 60 percent of their total daily calories. They over-emphasized grains while suggesting we cut back on healthy saturated fat. They recommended we eat low-fat foods like skim milk and replace saturated fats in animal products with vegetable oils.
From that low-fat craze came the government’s Food Guide Pyramid in 1992. At its base were refined carbohydrates, of which we were told to eat six to 11 servings.
The food industry loved these dietary guidelines. They could bill junk foods like low-fat salad dressing, fat-free yogurt, and low-fat desserts as “health foods.”
In other words, many of the guidelines benefitted big food companies, not our health. “Low fat” often translates into “high sugar.”
That’s unfortunate considering, on average, we eat 152 pounds of sugar and 146 pounds of flour (which also break down to sugar) every year. Much of that sugar comes from so-called healthy foods like fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt.
Meanwhile, other foods like healthy fats, which are actually healthy and provide a much more efficient fuel source, were placed at the very top of the pyramid. Experts warned us to eat them sparingly. Suddenly, pasta became a health food and healthy fat got demonized.
Frankly, this turned out to be the largest uncontrolled experiment ever done on human beings, and it failed miserably.
While slightly better, MyPlate (which replaced the outdated Food Pyramid in 2010) still advised a low-fat diet, despite flawed research and scientific evidence showing healthy fats are become far better for fat loss and overall health.
Today we are seeing a seismic shift from fat-phobia toward healthy fats, as I’ve explained in my new book, Eat Fat, Get Thin. More people are choosing a whole foods diet with mostly veggies, some fruits, and plenty of healthy fats like eggs, and coconut oil, olive oil, and grass-fed butter.
Yet many experts remain stuck in the government’s outdated dietary advice, which has created very real, unintended consequences like obesity.
Patients and readers often ask me how I would design a food pyramid. I would definitely include these five principles:
- Eat real food. Stay away from highly processed, factory-manufactured Frankenfoods. Instead, choose fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and lean animal proteins such as fish, chicken, and eggs.
- Eat plenty of healthy fat. That includes plenty of wild-caught fish, nuts and seeds, grass-fed beef, and avocado.
- Reduce stress. Chronic stress makes us fat, tired, and miserable. We must regularly include something that helps us unwind, whether that includes yoga, meditation, or deep breathing. My UltraCalm CD helps melt away stress, anxiety, and tension.
- Be active. Even 30 minutes of vigorous walking can help. We might do something more intense like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or weight resistance. Here are seven reasons exercise becomes so important for weight loss and overall health.
- Get great sleep. Lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep damages our metabolism, triggers cravings for sugar and carbs, makes us eat more, and drives up our risk of heart disease, diabetes, and early death. Research shows optimal sleep helps our body repair, recover, and even detoxify. Get 19 of my top sleep tips here.
What strategy would you add to the perfect food pyramid? I’d love to hear yours below or on my Facebook page.
Author: Dr. Mark Hyman
Editor: Emily Bartran