New USDA Food Guidelines

Somehow, we got the idea that bureaucrats, politicians and academics are qualified to tell us what to eat. The same people that brought you the line in the DMV, the spectacular efforts at mitigating things like Hurricane Katrina and the BP gulf oil spill, eugenics and forced sterilization have been recommending lower fat, higher carbohydrate changes to the American diet since Senator McGovern’s commission in the 1970s.

The value of their input over the last few decades: Americans today eat less fat, but have experienced rising rates of disease related to obesity, including type II diabetes (leading to heart disease and stroke). Oh, and giant subsidies for multinational corn producers that lead to below-market prices for things like high fructose corn syrup. Wonderful.

As Tom Naughton at Fat Head observes:

So the USDA has been issuing dietary advice every five years since 1980, and they’re responsible for enforcing consistency in federal dietary guidance. As they explain elsewhere in the document, their mission is especially critical now because

“The prevalence of overweight and obesity in the US has increased dramatically in the past three decades … The 2010 DGAC Report is unprecedented in addressing an American public, two-thirds of whom are overweight or obese.”

A dramatic increase in obesity in the past three decades … hmmm, let me do some math here … that would mean we’ve gotten a lot fatter since 1980, otherwise known as the first year the DGAC provided science-based advice to promote health and reduce risk of major chronic diseases through optimal diet and regular physical activity.

Laura Dolson at LowCarbDiets.About.com waded through the “new” guidelines to find some confusion on the part of our self-appointed Wise and Wonderful advisers:

What does this mean? To me it means that they recognize that the excess calories in the U.S. diet are mainly coming from high-carb foods, but are stopping short of saying that there is something about sugars in and of themselves that is causing overeating. I think it’s also important to remember that when they say, “healthy diets are high in carbohydrates”, what they are actually saying is “healthy diets are high in sugars”. Proponents of high-carb diets like to obscure the fact that to our bodies “it’s all sugar”, and that many of our bodies have a lot of trouble with this.

The comments section includes the obligatory response from a person signing their name with letters behind it … “MS, RD”. Those letters indicate that the poster has a master’s degree and is a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are, for the most part, a group of people who put forth the accepted wisdom without ever questioning it, or doing research themselves. My very low opinion of their advice is shared by some low carb doctors, so it is more than just jealousy or ignorance at work on my part. (I have been called worse by those that disagree with me, and often I’m surprised at the language they learned in college).

Laura is nice to her though. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be so nice. I would be respectful, because we are all God’s children, but you have to remember, dietitians are harming people. Encouraging type II diabetics and those “on the road” to that disease to eat “complex carbs” is more than counterproductive. It is harmful. It advances their disease. It kills people.

Some reports are that the USDA guidelines will establish even lower fat levels for the American diet, as low as 7% of daily caloric intake. To do this, you have to increase carbohydrate intake. Laura notes the new report advises up to 65% of your calories should come from carbs. For someone eating 2,500 calories a day, that’s over 400 grams of carbohydrates.

Let’s do an experiment. Take that one pound bag of sugar out of the cupboard and get a teaspoon. Scoop out a level teaspoon and pour it on the counter. How many carbs do you think that represents? About 4 grams. Do it another 100 times and you are just under the amount of carbohydrates the USDA is recommending.

That bag of sugar will be close to empty. Nearly one pound of it will be on your counter. Now, if I had “RD” after my name, I might suggest you eat it, but I won’t.

Wait, I’m being unfair. The “RD” people will tell you to eat “complex” carbohydrates, which means “whole grains” and other “slower to absorb” forms. OK, get several hundred empty medicine capsules that dissolve in your stomach. Put the sugar in that. Now you have the metabolic equivalent of “complex carbohydrates”, carbs that take longer to break down into sugar. “To sugar they will turn, they must”, as Yoda would say.

The USDA guidelines are more stringent this year, even with the conflicting messages that Laura observed. Like a light bulb’s light output increasing dramatically right before it burns out, the USDA is having one last hurrah with the low fat nonsense. The USDA, like all the “RD” folks out there, are ignoring the most recent medical research.

And because of that, more people will get fat, develop type II diabetes, and die.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Osteopenia

Gwyneth Paltrow produces a lifestyle newsletter with a blog-like online presence called Goop. Fitness, nutrition and “wellness” are some of her interests, and at various times she has embraced cardio exercise, macrobiotic diets and “fasting and cleansing” with gusto. While she has rotated through these phases, one constant has been that she avoids “red meat and diary” most of the time.

She is vitamin D deficit, and has osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis. Her recent newsletter included her story and the doctor’s admonition to “get out in the sun”:

This led my western/eastern doctors in New York to test my Vitamin D levels, which turned out to be the lowest they had ever seen (not a good thing). I went on a prescription strength level of Vitamin D and was told to…spend a bit of time in the sun! I was curious if this was safe, having been told for years to stay away from its dangerous rays, not to mention a tad bit confused.

Welcome to the club, Gwyneth. You may want to investigate that whole “don’t eat red meat” advice too. In her newsletter, she includes an article by Dr. Frank Lipman that has this tidbit:

For hundreds of thousands of years, man has lived with the sun: Our ancestors were outdoors far more often than indoors. We developed a dependence on sunshine for health and life, so the idea that sunlight is dangerous does not make sense. How could we have evolved and survived as a species, if we were that vulnerable to something humans have been constantly exposed to for their entire existence? Is it possible that our bodies are made in such a way that the sun is really a lethal enemy? Not in my opinion. Like all living things, we need sunshine, and it feels good for a reason. Much as plants harness the sun’s rays through photosynthesis, our bodies use sunlight to help the skin produce the Vitamin D it needs to build bones, quell inflammation, bolster the immune system and protect against cancer (including skin cancer).

“Let the sun shine in”

Western medicine has made a practice of telling us to abstain from things that are bad for us in extreme quantities, when in fact those same things⎯fat, salt, and sunshine for example⎯are very good for us when consumed wisely and in moderation.

Like many of us desiring a healthier lifestyle, Paltrow has found some of the advice she was given is lacking. I hope she really read that article and realizes that no only has man been in the sun for hundreds of thousands of years, but that man has eaten mainly meat as his sources of protein. It was just a few thousand years ago that agriculture allowed man to grow those “healty whole grains” that most health advocates push as the ideal diet; we are probably a few million years from evolving into that diet, and along the way is a lot of suffering from diseases such as diabetes, gout, osteoporosis, and yes, heart disease and stroke.

Vitamin D and Sun Exposure

Dr. Eades has a great blog post on sun exposure and the relative risk of skin cancer:

According to the same ACS statistics, last year 40,230 people died from breast cancer, 32,050 from prostate cancer and 51,370 from colon cancer. So, on the one hand, we have 8,700 people die of a disease that probably isn’t related to sun exposure while on the other we have 123,650 who died from cancers known to be related to lack of sun exposure. I don’t know about you, but I’ll go with the sun exposure, “disfiguring” superficial skin cancers be damned.

Life is full of risks, and assessing your individual risk factors is important. Emphasizing one risk far above all others … in this case skin cancer over breast, colon and prostate cancer … is all too common in our age of “specialty” medicine (and “specialty” bloggers, personal trainers, etc.)

Many who adopt a low carb lifestyle find themselves drawn to more activity, including activity in the sun. Fair-skinned people can obtain sun exposure without burning, and still produce the vast amounts of vitamin D the body produces, by gradually working up to the 30 minutes of sun exposure three times a week many recommend. A tan is a wonderful protective barrier to burning.

Natural sunlight is the best way to obtain vitamin D, and even if you are reading a book under a tree in full shade you still produce vitamin D (about half of the amount you do in full sun, but certainly more than you would sitting inside). Long hours spent outdoors with a hat on still exposes you to plenty of sun without burning; skip the sunscreen and enjoy the sun.

Protein Requirements

Low carb diets usually start with the proposition that you should eat a certain minimum amount of protein based on your lean body mass, no more than 30 – 40 grams of carbohydrate, and fill the rest of your diet with “good fats”. Protein Power includes a series of calculations to determine lean body mass, and then provides charts to determine your daily protein requirement. Protein Power Lifeplan simplified the process to include charts based on your height and weight.

The basic formula is about .6 of a gram of protein per pound of lean body mass (or, .6 gram of protein per .45 kg). For a person with a lean body mass of 150 pounds (67.5 kg), that’s 90 grams per day.

New dieters often express concern about the danger of “too much protein”, with kidney failure often a concern. A rule of thumb by dieters has been that up to 150% of your minimum protein requirement is no problem, and blood tests to measure kidney function in dieters exceeding their minimum protein requirement seems to bear this out.

Some people are alarmed at this, in part by the conservative Dietary Reference Intake levels of .66 to .8 grams of protein per kilogram of total weight. 150 pounds of lean body mass equals about 67.5 kg, and even at the higher recommendation of .8 grams of protein, that’s only 54 grams of protein. And yet low carbers routinely advise people that up to 135 grams … one and a half times the “minimum” requirement in Protein Power … is OK?

First, note that the Daily Reference Intake levels are for total body weight, not just lean body mass. Dieters want to “feed” their lean body mass so they don’t lose muscle along with fat, so they apply the calculation only to lean body mass, not total weight. So there is a built-in safety margin already in the low carb diets. And the fatter you are, the bigger the safety margin.

There’s also new evidence that protein requirements have been “significantly underestimated”, according to a new study released in the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care:

The mean and population-safe requirements in adult men were determined to be 0.93 and 1.2 g/kg/day and are 41 and 50%, respectively, higher than the current Dietary Reference Intakes recommendations.

To calculate the safe dietary intake of protein, researchers have been looking at “nitrogen balance“, using single linear regression analysis. The researchers re-examined this, applied two-phase linear regression analysis (considered more appropriate for “biological analysis of dose-response curves”), and came up with higher recommendations.

Considering the inherent problems associated with the nitrogen balance method, we developed an alternative method, the indicator amino acid oxidation technique, to determine protein requirements The mean and population-safe requirements in adult men were determined to be 0.93 and 1.2 g/kg/day and are 41 and 50%, respectively, higher than the current Dietary Reference Intakes recommendations.

15 Months Later

15 months ago I weighed 247 pounds, took hydrochlorothiazide (HCZT) for high blood pressure, Prilosec OTC for GURD, and had triglycerides of 344. My BP was 140/96, my waist size was creeping up on 42″, my HDL cholesterol was 20 and my fasting glucose level was 103. I had more than three of the indicators of “metabolic syndrome” — in fact, I had them all — increasing my risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes:

According to the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, metabolic syndrome is present if you have three or more of the following signs:

  • Blood pressure equal to or higher than 130/85 mmHg
  • Fasting blood sugar (glucose) equal to or higher than 100 mg/dL
  • Large waist circumference (length around the waist):
    o Men – 40 inches or more
    o Women – 35 inches or more
  • Low HDL cholesterol:
    o Men – under 40 mg/dL
    o Women – under 50 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides equal to or higher than 150 mg/dL

I wanted to avoid taking statins, a class of drug that has some side effects for some people. In my About page I have the course of action taken over a few years to try and get the situation under control. But nothing seemed to work until my doctor suggested I try reducing carbohydrates to see if I respond. I picked up Protein Power from the local bookstore, started the diet, and responded, very quickly. I then bought The Protein Power Lifeplan, the updated book, and found it a great help. (If you are only going to buy one, get Protein Power Life Plan).

Now, 15 months later, I have lost 44 pounds down to 203 (still 10 – 15 pounds overweight, but progress nonetheless). My size 36 pants are just starting to get a little loose, and I long ago abandoned the size 42, 40 and 38 size pants I wore over the past year and a half. I haven’t taken the HCZT for high blood pressure in over a year … today, it was 122 / 62 … and I stopped taking Prilosec OTC right after starting the diet. My triglycerides dropped first to 103 (from 344), then rose back to 143 as I have transitioned into the maintenance phase of the diet. My fasting glucose is now under 100, at 98. My HDL cholesterol, once at 20, is now 34, just 6 points shy of the desired 40.

My doctor is pleased, I am pleased, but more importantly, I feel great. The low carb way of eating is one I can tolerate long term, and plan to continue on this diet for the rest of my life.

Low Carb and Infertility

The Jacksonville Center for Reproductive Medicine works with patients and physicians in North and Central Florida, the South Georgia area and throughout the southeast. Dr. Michael D. Fox has an impressive background, but of interest to us is one part of his practice. The part that treats some of the “underlying metabolic causes of infertility, e.g. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and insulin resistance.”

Dr. William Davis, of the Heart Scan Blog, interviewed Dr. Fox to find out more about the link between infertility and nutrition. At first, Dr. Fox tried low carbohydrate diets such as the South Beach Diet, but soon realized that the benefits they were seeking came about only with very low carbohydrate diets (VLCD) such as Protein Power or Atkins. From the Heart Scan Blog:

Five years ago, as more information regarding Polycystic Ovarian Disease or Syndrome (PCOD/S) and its relationship to insulin resistance (high insulin levels) was emerging, we had a simple realization. As we’ve known for some time, insulin stimulates excess male hormone levels in the ovary, which disrupts ovulation and fertility. Then our job was to lower or virtually eliminate high insulin levels. Again, in simple fashion, we looked at physiology and realized that insulin is released only in response to dietary carbohydrates. Thus, elimination of carbohydrates should resolve the problem. This, in fact, is the effect that we have seen.

In our previous approaches to PCOD, we utilized oral ovulation medicines generating pregnancy rates in the 40% range overall. Now, with the nutritional approach, for those patients that follow our recommendations, our pregnancy rates are over 90%! This has dramatically reduced the need for in vitro fertilization in these patients.

There’s more at the link, and is worth a visit.

Both Dr. Davis and Dr. Fox are what I call “smart guys”, professionals who combine the latest medical research with the practical application of its results. Rather than a researcher in a lab with white mice, these “smart guys” have to balance the needs of real patients against the theoretical ideal.

While a researcher can easily induce a calorie deficit to starve a rodent, “smart guys” realize that humans with free will are quite different animals. The “eat less, move more” mantra simply doesn’t work with most human beings. And neither does the standard nutritional advice given by our government agencies. Eating to provide your body with the necessary nutrients is a basic biological imperative. Hunger is an unnatural state that the body identifies as a distress signal, leading to over consumption. The researcher, playing God, can make sure the starving rodent never gets more food. The doctor facing an overweight patient cannot control how much the patient eats. Smart guys find what works for their patients.

Both Dr. Davis and Dr. Fox discovered benefits for their patients beyond simple weight control. Dr. Davis has chronicled the benefits of eliminating wheat from the diet and following a low carbohydrate diet for cardiovascular health. Now, we learn Dr. Fox has discovered a new approach to helping women with PCOD.

For couples facing infertility due to PCOD, a change to a very low carb diet such as Protein Power or Atkins could help them reproduce the Success Stories seen on Dr. Fox’s “testimonials” page.

Now, that’s what I call success.