Tag Archives: Nina Teicholz

Policy Does Not Equal Science…

In the late 1970’s the low fat diet traveled to the halls of Congress in Washington DC. The Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, led by Senator George McGovern, held two days of hearings entitled “Diet Related to Killer Diseases”. After the hearings, committee staff member Nick Mottern orchestrated the political crusade for the (low fat) diet-heart hypothesis despite the fact that he had no background in nutrition or health. His personal negative bias toward red meat further tainted the narrative and his report, called Dietary Goals, secured the U.S. Government’s support with Congressional adoption in 1977. At this point, the diet-heart hypothesis became politically protected as truth despite the fact that virtually no clinical trial scientific proof existed.

“The United States had embarked upon a giant nutritional experiment to cut out meat, dairy and dietary fat altogether, shifting calorie-consumption over to grains, fruits and vegetables. Saturated animal fats would be replaced by polyunsaturated vegetable oils. It was a new, untested diet – just an idea, presented to Americans as the truth. Many years later, science started to show that this diet was not very healthy at all, but it was too late by then, since it had been national policy for decades already.”(Teicholz-102)

In February of 1980, the Dietary Goals transitioned into the first Dietary Guidelines for Americans eventually providing the basis for the USDA Food Pyramid, and the subsequent “My Plate” dietary teachings known to every school aged child in the country. Revisited every five years, the dietary guidelines provide a one size fits all approach, equating the nutritional needs of every American over the age of 2.

It is ludicrous to suggest that her dietary needs equal that of a middle aged man…A nutrient rich diet that includes beef leads her both to victory and good health. 800M Champion last weekend in her first high school track meet!

While USDA reports that these guidelines over the past 30 years were not well followed, they most certainly shifted the culture of the American diet. In response to their advice,  Americans moved away from red meat, eggs, and dairy and towards carbohydrates and vegetable oils. Many replaced nutrient dense protein with sugar and polyunsaturated oils – a combination which arguably played a role in causing obesity and other metabolic diseases like diabetes to explode across the population. The dietary guidelines became officially destined for political battle when they became law in 1995.

According to Adele Hite MPH, RD, MAT of the Healthy Nation Coalition, the policy changes associated with the dietary guidelines altered the food environment in our country by affecting:

  • What’s available for purchase on grocery store shelves.
  • What’s available for purchase through the WIC and other government programs.
  • What’s being fed to our military members on active duty.
  • What’s being fed to our kids through school lunch programs.
  • What’s being taught in school to our kids in Nutrition and Health classes.
  • Narrowing the focus for future nutritional studies and limited scientific debate on the topic.

In addition to equating the dietary needs of a two year old child with a fifty year old man, this government sponsored nutrition dogma portrays unproved science as the truth.

The proposed 2015 Dietary Guidelines limit animal protein even more than the previous guidelines, despite the fact that the 2010 report states that the food patterns recommended in the Dietary Guidelines “have not been specifically tested for health benefits”. The continued increase in the growing percentage of obese and metabolically challenged Americans should cause our leaders in Washington DC to take pause and reexamine their advice — but the high carbohydrate narrative lives on.

It is time for the American people to let their voices be heard. The comment period for the proposed 2015 Dietary Guidelines is open until May 8, 2015. I will be sharing my comment letter next week both on this website and also with the USDA/HHS. You can share your thoughts by going to the government website. If you would like to view other sample comments you can go to either the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Website or be a signer on the letter written by the Healthy Nation Coalition.

Together we can reinforce the notion that policy does not equal science and take back our right to chose healthy foods for our families.

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Perhaps It’s Time To Stop Apologizing For Fat…

How often do you eat a steak, an omelet, or cook with real butter? What kind of milk is in your refrigerator?

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While animal protein arguably tastes good and makes us feel satiated, the nutrition community has steadfastly steered Americans away from eating red meat and whole fat dairy for the past four decades. The diet-heart hypothesis (coined by a biologist named Ancel Keys in the early 1960’s) proclaimed that a low fat and high carbohydrate diet provided the basis for good health. Although not proved through clinical trials, the hypothesis gained support from the federal government and provided the basis for mainstream dietary advice during the ensuing decades.

In my lifetime, the culture of the American diet has shifted dramatically. According to USDA, the consumption of grains (41%), vegetables (23%) and fruits (13%) rose significantly from 1970-2005 while red meat (-22%), milk (-33%) and eggs (-17%) fell dramatically. Overall carbohydrate intake for Americans rose with low fat starches, and vegetable oil took the place of animal protein and fat in the diet. Animal protein lovers shifted from beef to chicken, and many traded whole fat dairy for skim milk and margarine thereby forsaking nutrition density for lower saturated fat options.

All of this occurred during a time in the United States when obesity rates more than doubled (15-32%), the prevalence of heart failure, cancer and stroke all increased, and the rate of diabetes increased from less than 1% to 11%.

An association hypothesis (mirroring the process used by Ancel Keys to develop the diet-heart low fat mindset) might suggest from these two sets of data that replacing animal protein with vegetable oil and carbohydrates actually reduced the quality of health of Americans – the direct opposite from the intended consequence of Keys’ hypothesis. Uncovering this discrepancy inspired Nina Teicholz, an investigative food reporter, to delve deep into the nutrition archives. After nine years of research covering thousands of studies and a wide array of interviews with nutrition scientists, Teicholz uncovered a laundry list of interesting findings in her New York Times Bestseller The Big Fat Surprise.

  • The current U.S Dietary Guidelines are based on Keys’ hypothesis and drawn from epidemiological studies primarily done on middle-aged men. Clinical trials have not confirmed the epidemiological data, and virtually no data exits supporting this hypothesis for women and children.
  • The causal associations seen between red meat consumption and heart disease are minimal.
  • The saturated fat found in animal protein increases HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) which appears to play a positive role in heart health. Additionally, fat plays an important role in providing energy as well as ensuring that a number of essential vitamins be fully absorbed by the body.
  • Total cholesterol is not a good predictor of heart disease for most people. In particular, LDL (bad) cholesterol does not consistently predict an increased risk of heart disease. The cholesterol argument is the primary basis for the advice to reduce red meat consumption.
  • No health studies exist to discern the effect on health of liquid vegetable oils; and studies have shown that the process of solidifying vegetable oils (to make butter imitations) creates trans-fat which are incredibly unhealthy. Vegetable oil use is up 8% since the diet-heart hypothesis began to drive dietary advice.
  • Carbohydrates are a primary cause of insulin secretion – the constant consumption of carbohydrates throughout the day creates elevated insulin levels in the bloodstream which renders the body unable to digest its fat stores. This leads to metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes. Eating fat and protein do not cause insulin secretion during digestion.  High fat, low carbohydrate diets like the Atkins diet are more effective for achieving lasting weight loss.
  • Multiple clinical trials demonstrate that a diet which trades carbohydrates for protein and fat can be healthy suggesting that a shift in thought process and nutrition study focus is prudent.

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I encourage each of you to read Teicholz’s book. It is an eye opening experience that inspires the reader to guiltlessly enjoy a steak while thinking that perhaps it’s time to stop apologizing for fat…

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Raising Teenage Girls Amidst a Sea Of Dietary Confusion…

Apart from my favorite farmer, my three girls are my greatest blessing. In less than two weeks, 2/3’s of them will be teenagers. Our house is a bevy of activity permeated by moments of drama, and decorated by athletic bras hanging to dry on nearly every doorknob.

While raising teenagers is unarguably an adventure, I believe that the journey of raising healthy and confident girls resembles a never ending Iron Man competition. Nagging concerns of being thin, pretty, and accepted butt up against dreams of athletic and intellectual prowess. An internal struggle capped off by an innate drive toward individualism that may conflict with mainstream culture as well as push the dogma perpetuated by parents and mentors.

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The life journey of a teenage girl proves that the road to excellence is never comfortable…

While many of these daily struggles simply come together to create the iconic journey toward maturity, some have become exacerbated by the complex dual between science and politics that make up the history of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. I was two years old in 1977 when the science of nutrition became diluted with the burden of politics. Fortunately my parents shielded me from the ramifications of the new age of political nutrition rhetoric, choosing to instead pass along to me a traditional culture of family meals and a balanced diet.

I grew up in a house where dinner was always a home cooked meal. Meat was the center of the plate accompanied by a vegetable, some sort of starch, and a glass of milk. While my mom was not a fancy cook, her meals were delicious and she taught me how to put diversified nutrients on the table. I learned to equate the basics of home cooking with healthiness, primarily due to my mom’s steadfast commitment to a pragmatic diet approach.

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I do not have childhood memories of other influences (outside of my family) on the topic of nutrition. I cannot say that same thing about my daughters. The web of political influence over nutrition has grown to where it touches their lives daily through school lunches and nutrition education in the classroom.

  • I serve my girls eggs, meat, and whole milk as a part of a balanced diet at home while they are told in school curriculum that these are unhealthy even when blended with fruits and vegetables on the home cooked dinner plate.
  • I preach about the importance of protein and fat as sources of energy and nutrients in the diet while the government mandated curriculum teaches them that eating healthy means a plant based high carbohydrate and low fat diet.

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The result is a conflicted and confused teenager trying to survive amidst a sea of dietary confusion.

The next few blog posts will take a look at both the science and the politics of nutrition. I will examine Nina Teicholz’s New York Times Bestseller The Big FAT Surprise, as well as the current nutrition debate that struggles to surface amidst a 30 year culture of food politics determined to create a one size fits all answer to the diet and health of Americans.

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Filed under General, Nutrition (cattle and human)