A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN DIET
As an American born in the latter half of the 20th century, we hold these truths to be self-evident. All men are created equal, they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Oh, and if they eat a high fat diet, they will inevitably get heart disease and die.
Okay, so that first part is the Declaration of Independence. The high fat diet part is what’s been passed down to us by our United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Their new MyPlate system is supposed to be a replacement for the old food pyramid. The food pyramid, and MyPlate in a somewhat more confusing manner, recommend every American’s diet look like this on a daily basis:
· 5-11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta
· 3-5 servings of vegetables
· 2-4 servings of fruit
· 2-3 servings of dairy
· 2-3 servings of meat and eggs
· Sparing use of oils and sugars
In theory, eating this prescribed amount of food each day along with the proper amount of calories will make you thin, healthy, and live to be 100 years old. In the mid 1980’s, the president of the American Heart Association told Time Magazine that if everyone adopted this style of eating, “we will have [heart disease] conquered by the year 2000.” There’s just one problem with this, and I’m sure you can guess what it is. Ever since the adoption of this diet as the standard for which all other diets will be measured, obesity, heart disease and cancer rates have skyrocketed.
I won’t make this a huge history lesson, as that’s not what this book about. However, I want to go over a couple of key historical facts everyone should find highly curious.
Around the year 1958, a fellow by the name of Ancel Keys started to conduct what he called the “Seven Countries Study,” in which he would try to examine the association of diet and cardiovascular disease. What he found was that countries that ate the most amount of dietary fat had the highest instances of heart disease. Without much further experimentation or observation, he hypothesized that high fat equals heart disease. End of story, right? Not so fast. He left out a few big details so as to spin his theory in a positive light.
He left out the evidence that Holland and Norway ingested copious amount of fat, but had very little heart disease. He also neglected to mention Chile ingesting low fat, but having very high rates of heart disease. In other words, he only used data from countries that supported his theory, and left those key statistics from Holland, Norway, Chile and several other countries out. For his efforts, or lack thereof, Keys was put on the cover of Time Magazine and was a large influence on the American Heart Association’s effort to introduce America to a low-fat diet for the next few decades.
Twenty years later, in 1977, a U.S. Senate committee published the first dietary guidelines for reduction of heart disease in America. Those guidelines recommended a decrease in fat, cholesterol and processed sugars, but an increase in complex carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and grains. The guidelines were mandated by a group of Keys-like scientists who used more theory than fact in making up the rules. However, the USDA, which “coincidentally” is in charge of selling grains, stamped their seal of approval on this kind of eating very quickly. Controlled studies of these guidelines yielded no evidence of beneficial effects, and this also happens to be the time period where the obesity epidemic in America started to surface followed shortly after by a huge influx of type 2 diabetes.
Three decades worth of unproven ideas and brilliant marketing later, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office set out to write a report that would prove without a doubt dietary fat was incredibly dangerous to us as a people. The task seemed relatively simple for the project manager assigned to the task. They were to gather the evidence proving the dangers of fat, put it into one volume, and have it approved for publication. But a funny thing happened. Four project managers and ten years went by, and they weren’t able to publish that single volume. Then in 1999, the report was killed altogether. In a sentence, the subject matter “was too complicated.” It was also found that the preconceived opinions were there, but the science simply wouldn’t back up those opinions.
We are now approaching 60 years since the Seven Countries Study, and only a few facts can be positively identified. Saturated fats have the potential to raise cholesterol levels, which can clog arteries. However, a Harvard Medical School study could only prove that cutting saturated fats to a minimum may increase your chances of living longer by a few weeks. Not years. Weeks. We’ll discuss cholesterol more in later chapters, but know this. 100% proof that cholesterol from food has anything to do with heart disease has never been verified. Not once.
Another fact that came out of our adoption of a low-fat lifestyle is that since the 1970’s, the obesity rates in adults and children have more than doubled. More than two-thirds of U.S. adults are now considered overweight. About a quarter of 2-5 year olds and one-third of school age children are overweight. And while some would argue that deaths from heart disease have dramatically decreased in the past several decades, the real truth is we are just learning better ways to treat the sick. Between 1979 and 1996, medical procedures for treatment of heart disease went from 1.2 million to 5.4 million a year.
This is not the improvement in American health Ancel Keys said it would be. This is a national tragedy; one that’s costing America an estimated $190 billion (with a b) dollars a year to treat, and climbing every year. Maybe it’s time we start listening to what the scientific community aka the skeptics have to say, and stop listening to the people with the biggest mouths.
While I’m not a scientist, I’ve extensively researched what they have to say and adopted their practices, which I have put into this book. My hope is that you can use this a one-stop source for all your nutritional needs from here on out.
What do you say we get started?
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