Optimal Diet

The New USDA Dietary Guidelines: Total Hogwash, and Here’s Why

A few days ago, the USDA finally unveiled their (fashionably late) 2010 dietary guidelines—the first update they’ve made since 2005. Are you as excited as I am? Can we live without bread yet? Leave the fat on our dairy? Ditch the rancid vegetable oils? Gobble down butter and coconut oil without fearing imminent death? By golly, has the USDA finally pulled its head out of the soybean fields and given us something useful, emerging as a reliable authority instead of a food industry puppet?

Nah.

Contrary to my title, though, the new guidelines aren’t total hogwash. Just mostly. A few of their recommendations are passable, like these:

  • Prevent and/or reduce overweight and obesity through improved eating and physical activity behaviors. (Duh.)
  • Increase physical activity and reduce time spent in sedentary behaviors. (Duh.)
  • Keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils. (Duh.)
  • Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium. (Yes!)

Unfortunately, the rest of the guidelines are the regurgitated—and often unsubstantiated—snippets we’re already inundated with. Case in point:

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol.
  • Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains.
  • Increase intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages.
  • Use oils to replace solid fats where possible.

According to the guideline packet, these recommendations provide “information and advice for choosing a healthy eating pattern” and are “based on the most recent scientific evidence review.” If you’ve read anything else on this blog, you probably know by now that I’m weary of trusting second-hand interpretations—the original data often tells a different story than the mouths claiming to interpret it. So instead of taking the USDA’s word as gospel, why not see what they’re basing their recommendations on?

Luckily, the USDA has a Nutrition Evidence Library, where they’ve compiled the studies they used to create their latest guidelines. Let’s dig in. (more…)

The China Study, Wheat, and Heart Disease; Oh My!

(Not only is this woefully, frustratingly, absurdly belated, but it’s also not yet finished. But I hate being a blog tease, so here’s part one!)

If you’ve been following along with the previous China Study entries (and the wild drama that ensued), you know that I’ve been promising an entry on wheat for a while now, mostly because this little snippet snagged so many eyes:

Correlation between wheat flour and coronary heart disease: 0.67

That’s a value straight from the original China Study data. Could the “Grand Prix of epidemiology” have accidentally uncovered a link between the Western world’s leading cause of death and its favorite glutenous grain? Is the “staff of life” really the staff of death? Bwah ha ha.

(more…)

The Lowdown on Organic Food

View from the Kalalau Trail, 4/27/2010

Aloha from Kauai!

First and foremost, my apologies for the shortage of blog entries this month—and the sluggish replies to emails. I’m currently exploring the balmy islands of Hawaii, expanding my repertoire of exotic fruit while gifting the mosquitoes with two sacrificial offerings of flesh (my legs). Holy insect swarms, Batman! Expect a steadier stream of updates once I’m back on the mainland and not spending half of my waking hours itching.

Here’s a subject near and dear to any raw foodist’s heart: organics. Given the amount of produce most of us scarf down, it’s only logical that the quality of our food—and any chemical residue it ushers into our body—should be a major concern. It would be wonderful if everything we put in our mouths was free from pesticides, untouched by toxins, and grown in a way that was healthy for both the land and for our bodies.

Most people assume that means buying organic. (more…)

What is the “Optimal” Diet for Humans? (Part 2)

Did we adapt to cooked food, or is that idea—ahem—half-baked?

In part 1 of this “optimal human diet” series, I mentioned that there is no single, exact diet that will deliver perfect health for everyone. We’re tough cookies, us humans—and we only made it as far as we did by adapting to whatever happened to land on our evolutionary dinner plates. Mastodon meat, sweet little figs, plant roots—we made food of it all.

Even so, there’s a notion in the raw food world that we’re still best-suited for the type of diet we ate back in the good ol’ days. You know, before we exited the tropics, conquered all corners of the planet, and invented the deep-fried Krispy Kreme (which surely triggered the downfall of humanity). Maybe you’ve heard claims that we haven’t adapted to cooked food at all, that we’re designed to be vegan or vegetarian, and that our digestive systems still look like those of other fruit-munchin’, leaf-chompin’ primates.

But do those beliefs hold up to reality? Let’s take a look. (more…)

What is the “Optimal” Diet for Humans? (Part 1)

Does this fella offer us nutritional clues?

Part of what first led me to raw foods was a curiosity about our “optimal diet.” It seemed like such a simple concept: a combination of foods that our bodies are best adapted to, that we could easily discern by looking at our anatomy, that evolutionary history supported, and that would lead to the best health possible. It shouldn’t be rocket science, right?

Unfortunately, it kind of is. (more…)