Friday, 25 February 2011

Americans Continue Obesity Trend

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 (the Guidelines) were released on 31 January 2011. The claim is that the Guidelines are based on the most recent scientific evidence and the report is geared for Americans aged 2 and over. I refute the evidence and why this age is the starting point is unknown except perhaps statically foetuses and infants are not usually obese, even though the foundation of poor health starts before birth. In addition, besides the specific issues I raise in this article, generally the focus of the Guidelines is on calories, which is mostly irrelevant when it comes to nutrition for health and well-being.

The Guidelines maintain the commonly known statistics that one third of Americans are obese of the two-thirds that are overweight. They also tell us that 15 percent of American households do not have adequate food resources. This leaves about a quarter of Americans who qualify for good health on the basis of weight and access to adequate food. But other ailments primarily caused by poor nutrition may affect even them.

The Guidelines set out statistics for the prevalence of major diseases in the United States. 81.1 million Americans have cardiovascular disease! This is 37 per cent of the population. 74.5 million Americans have hypertension! 24 million have diabetes! Nearly half the population is expected to have cancer during their lifetime and many older people are expected to have osteoporosis. The people who suffer from depression and other such mental illness are not mentioned, but statistics show this is also highly prevalent. There are many antidepressant medications used in the US and without going off on a tangent, I would simply like to mention that one in four Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year.

All in all, there are a lot of ill people in the US and the Guidelines are tackling very serious problems, but unfortunately, there’s nothing new and they won’t help. And this is in the country that boasts being the wealthiest in the world. The reason the Guidelines are so poor is too deep a discussion for this article. I will only briefly mention some of the inadequacies.

The Guidelines basically cover the following:

Vegetables and fruit intake is encouraged. For starters, this may even be poor advice. According to Dr Cass Ingram (see below), depending on your metabolic type, some people do not tolerate high levels of vegetable intakes and others should avoid certain fruits.

At least 50% of grains should be whole. However, there is no comment about cutting down on the portion of grains in the daily diet, only on refined grains, and admirably, added sugars. This is important because many obese people are addicted to carbohydrates and gluten, whether refined or not. Reduction of added sugars is the best recommendation in the Guidelines, but lumping sugars together with solid fats is confusing.

Fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products including yogurt and cheese should be increased. Fortified soy beverages are also recommended in this category. This is my main complaint about these guidelines, which I will discuss below.

Protein foods are recommended with an emphasis on low fat, including seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy products and unsalted nuts and seeds. I would take issue with the low fat and unsalted choices here.

Further, emphasis is placed on eating seafood. With recent developments in America, GM salmon is probably the top choice. Since most wild fish are fast becoming extinct, this will encourage fish farming and farming of other aquatic foods which I do not support. I briefly discussed this in my article called Wild or Farmed Fish for the Future.

Emphasis is placed again on choosing protein foods that are lower in solid fats and that are a source of oils. This is another way of saying, eat more fish again!

Americans are to use more oils instead of solid fats. This is clearly denigrating butter which many argue is good for health because the body needs cholesterol as explained below.

Finally, the above recommendations are endorsed because of isolated nutrients that are deemed to be of heightened concern in American diets. Potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D are claimed to be deficiency candidates which are cited as being found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk and milk products.

I grew up in the United States and can tell you from first-hand experience that the Guidelines are nothing new. Rigorous scientific studies and evidence are claimed to support these findings, but if after many decades this advice is not working, I would have thought that something new might be in line. I would like to briefly discuss the dairy issue in particular. From since I can remember, Americans have been told that low-fat milk is better than whole milk for health. My mother used to contest this. She was from the generation before the scientific findings backed this claim and she clung onto the old ways. But I chose to follow the official advice and bought semi-skimmed milk for many years. I neither think it was a wise choice nor that it did my health any good.

My dairy dream is for the myths surrounding milk and milk products to be busted. The biggest one I think is that whole milk and full-fat milk products contribute to weight gain. The Weston A. Price Foundation has a short article about this myth called Obesity and Weight Loss. I recently attended a meeting where doctor and author Natasha Campbell-McBride spoke and she is also a director of the Weston A. Price Foundation. I summarised her presentation in an article called Real Farming – The Nation’s Primary Health Service Meeting. Please see my article for details, but in summary, what she said was that the body needs cholesterol to function properly and low levels cause disease. Dr Cass Ingram also discusses this in his book Eat Right 4 Your Metabolic Type which I noticed has a ridiculous price of £140.95 on Amazon today (25/2/2011)!  I wonder if the price is high because it is a well-sought after book or if it is to discourage sales.

Soy is predominantly genetically modified in the US. I believe this in itself is a problem. But the claim that soy milk is a good substitute for cow’s milk, even with fortifications, is another myth. The Weston A. Price Foundation summarises the many dangers of soy well.

So that’s it in a nutshell. Authority is not always right and the American nutrition myths live on, showing that we should choose our bedtime stories wisely or end up having a nightmare, possibly even a lifelong one.