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Low carb diets trump low-fat plans: Food pyramid should reflect new studies

What's wrong with the food pyramid? Experts explain.
What's wrong with the food pyramid? Experts explain.
Primal Blueprint

Scientists, health researchers and physicians are producing a mounting body of evidence that add up to one simple fact: Our national food pyramid has contributed to, rather than reversed, the growing epidemics of obesity, diabetes and related conditions. And an increasing number of experts are hoping to make a difference by recommending that low carb diets, shown to boost weight loss, form the foundation of our national guidelines, reported the Huffington Post on July 31.

"I'd like to see the guidelines move away from nutrient targets and … toward true, food-based evidence," said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. He has been outspoken about what's wrong with the low-fat, grain-heavy nutritional guidelines, known as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) that currently exist.

The food pyramid is built on a base of bread, cereal, rice and pasta, with recommendations to avoid foods such as red meat and full-fat dairy. "The focus on reducing fat in the DGAs implicitly led to higher carbs," said Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health. "And that became problematic, because the vast majority of carbs in the U.S. are refined and bad for you."

Various subcommittees are working on improving the guidelines, with a target date of 2015 for the new version. "There is an intention to look at the more current evidence," said Trish Britten, a nutritionist with the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

In addition to looking at new studies, many experts are urging the guideline creators to consider how food is manufactured. "It’s much more important for the meat you eat to be unprocessed than what its fat content is," said Mozaffarian.

He concurs with the Paleo view and feels that it's "meaningless" to stress about the fat content. "What’s much more important [is] how much it's been processed, sodium, how you cook it," he said. In other words, consider quality of food rather than quantity of fat.

So how challenging will it be if the food pyramid suddenly shifts from promoting pasta to pushing protein? A new survey shows that most consumers would love to be seduced by steak, with 71 percent of consumers saying that they want more protein in their diets, reported South Coast Today on July 31.

More than half of all adults want to lose weight, according to a Gallup Poll. And several studies showing the benefits of high protein low carb diets have resulted in increasingly popularity for diet plans such as the Atkins and Paleo diets.

As for the low-fat diets currently promoted by the American Heart Association and USDA? Low-fat foods do not equal weight loss, according to several recent studies, while low carb diets such as the Paleo diet do.

The Harvard School of Public Health reported on a study called DIRECT. It contrasted low-fat, low carb diets and Mediterranean-style diets. After two years, study participants who followed the low carb or Mediterranean-style diet lost more weight and kept it off more successfully.

Denise Minger, author of "Death by Food Pyramid: How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Have Ruined Our Health," offered her views in an exclusive interview. "The pyramid wasn't designed exclusively with human health in mind: it was also shaped by the country's economic state - a casualty of the USDA's catch-22 duty of protecting agricultural interests while also supporting human health."

And the problem with that: "The most profitable foods tend to be the worst ones for our bodies." Denise contends that the grain-heavy food pyramid, which recommends six to eleven servings of grains, is an overload of starchy food with no evidence of its merits.

Moreover, the restriction on fat implemented in the pyramid is dangerous to our health, says Denise. "USDA nutritionists thought distinguishing between different types of fats - like the monounsaturated fat found in olive oil, the omega-3s in fish, the saturated fat in dairy - would be too confusing for Americans, so they tried to simplify the message by restricting fat categorically. That robbed us of a lot of incredibly nutritious foods and fat-soluble vitamins."

If you rely only on the current food pyramid, you are left with "the impression that starchy foods - even heavily processed and refined ones - are a dietary free-for-all, while fat is inherently harmful. It's taken decades to finally start reversing that mentality and dissolve the fat-phobia instilled by the pyramid."

So what should you eat for weight loss and health? Get over that fat-phobia, says Denise, and embrace the wonders of healthy fats and protein.

Denise recommends a Paleo-style diet, which is low in starchy carbs and high in healthy fats. Vegetables, fruits and protein deserve spaces on your plate, she says. If you tolerate dairy, try cultured forms like yogurt and kefir.

Nutritious high-fat diet foods include "nuts, avocado, bone marrow, organ meats, fish eggs, oily seafood like salmon, coconut, egg yolks, and dairy from animals eating very good diets," says Denise. And, just as with many other experts, she emphasizes focusing on unprocessed foods.

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