Nothing gets my goat more than common dietary advice. Not only is it confusing to follow and understand, it is also not what is truly in the best interest of human health. The US Dietary Guidelines, recently updated for 2020-2025, are meant to provide nutritional guidance for the prevention of disease. The problem is that an enormous percentage of our population, upwards of 40% of American adults were considered obese and 75%(!) overweight as of 2018. It is projected that by 2030, 50% of American adults will be obese. Just using this statistic alone, and not considering the other diseases associated with diet and lifestyle (some estimate that 90-95% of all disease is caused by our exposome), obesity is responsible for 100,000-400,000 deaths and costs an estimated $117 billion each year. The majority of our population is already sick, and the advice on prevention is, very clearly, not working.
The new dietary guidelines for 2020-2025 advise that a healthy diet be consumed throughout a person’s lifespan (duh!). They recommend a focus on nutrient dense foods and drinks over processed and packaged foods that are typically high in added sugar, sodium, and saturated fats (duh- again!). However, the foods that are recommended as nutrient dense are inaccurate.
Nutrient density should mean that we focus our diet on foods that provide a complex variety of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and other complexes). We require over 40 different micronutrients for normal metabolic function. A nutrient diet is essential for disease prevention and a long, healthy life. This naturally eliminates any processed or packaged food and foods with any added sugar or sodium. A whole foods diet- one in which you eat foods that have only one ingredient (itself), will get you close on this.
The US Dietary Guidelines recommend nutrient dense foods, yet completely ignore the most nutrient dense foods on the planet: organ meats, red meat, and full-fat dairy. Perhaps because these foods are high in fat, which has been wrongly vilified for causing obesity and heart disease. In reality, it is sugar that contributes to these diseases, yet the Guidelines allow for a whopping 10% of your dietary intake to come from sugar.
Nutrient density should mean that we focus our diet on foods that provide a complex variety of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and other complexes).
Sugar itself is completely devoid of any nutritional value, yet our government is advocating its use as part of a “healthy” diet. Common sense alone is enough to recognize that any sugar, in every form, does not contribute to health.
These new guidelines recommend fat-free and low-fat dairy and avoidance of fattier cuts of meats. Research has now shown that fat, even saturated fat, does not cause heart disease, high cholesterol, or increased body fat. We need fat to maintain the structure of each and every cell in the body, to make our hormones, and to fuel our brains. Fat is also very satiating and will, unlike carbohydrates, help limit caloric intake. The advice to consume fat-free and low-fat dairy and lean meats is out-dated. Whole milk dairy is an excellent source of protein. Fat and fattier cuts of high-quality animal protein, animal skins, organs, and tendons provide essential fatty acids, amino acids such as glycine (that is severely deficient if you are only consuming lean meats), and collagen that has become so popular in the wellness industry.
We also know that exchanging healthy saturated fats for industrial seed oils like canola and soybean oil is actually extremely inflammatory to the human body. In fact, when I have a patient who has markers of inflammation, the first dietary advice I give is to ditch those industrial seed oils for olive, avocado, coconut oil, butter, and yes, even lard.
Beans, legumes, and grains, while high in fiber and certain amino acids, are also an ample source of lectins and anti-nutrients, which actually block the absorption of minerals. This is why food product companies fortify grains with vitamins and minerals- they just don’t have them in there to begin with. The most comprehensive study on nutrient density to date shows that, in all categories, meat and fish, vegetables and fruits scored higher in nutrient density than beans, legumes and grains.
The nutrition guidelines recommend six servings of grains a day, half of which can be refined. Not only are grains lacking in nutrition, six servings amounts to a very high intake of carbohydrates. Modern nutrition research verifies that high carbohydrate diets raise blood sugar and contribute to metabolic dysregulation and weight gain. An issue that is, as stated above, rampant in the US.
The bottom line is that these new Dietary Guidelines, just like its many predecessors, is severely lacking in any useful information when it comes to educating the public about how to eat a healthy diet.
A nutrient dense diet is actually very simple to follow. Eat whole foods, preferably fresh, local and organic. Eat animal proteins, grass-fed, pasture raised, and wild caught when possible. Eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits. Eat high quality, healthy fats from nuts and seeds, avocados ( and oil), olives (and oil).
This diet is naturally lower in carbohydrates, lower in calories, and, the most important quality, high in nutrient density.
If you need help fine tuning your diet, or making it feel doable for you, contact me and I can help! Eating healthy does not have to be a confusing, complicated venture. It can be delicious, satisfying, and make you feel great!