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NY Times Op-Author Gets it All Wrong: "The Government's Bad Diet Advice"

February 23, 2015, 3:00 pm

Most people know that The Sage: Nutritious Solutions was developed by a singular dietitian, Mr. Cook-It, in order to help spread truth about nutrition and awareness about ways to live healthier, richer, fuller lives. Nutrition is a confusing topic for a lot of people, as food is the heart of society, love, and comfort. Food elicits strong emotions, connections, and memories. Most people feel that “good nutrition” means forgetting about all of these factors in lieu of being “healthy.” Dietitians are known as the “food police.” Convincing people to live healthy is not easy.

For the most part, nutrition guidance and recommendations are based on nutritional research and clinical observations. The latter speaks to the tried-and-true methods that have worked in practice with actual patients for a substantial amount of time, enough to offer it as “suggestions” to patients and clients. However, nutrition research has endured a tough road. It is difficult to conduct “good” studies because, again, we are dealing with food. You can only rely on the memory of people to an extent in assessing intake. In following people for a duration of time, we can't expect study participants to only eat what is given to them by researchers… they are going to eat other foods. With all of this said, nutrition research is very much still in its infancy compared to that of the medical field, for instance. There are huge hurdles that need to be overcome in order to have nutrition research on the same playing field as medical research.

In the link found HERE, a columnist in the Opinion section of the New York Times discusses the recent changes in the dietary guidelines, found HERE. Nina Teicholz is the author of a book about why high-fat animal products should be included in the American diet. She discusses how “experts got it all wrong” for so long with previous nutritional guidelines stating that high-fat, high-cholesterol foods should be kept at a distance. Of course, an op-ed piece is all that could be written by an author with this big of an information bias.

She states,“we would be wise to return to what worked better for previous generations: a diet that included fewer grains, less sugar and more animal foods like meat, full-fat dairy and eggs. That would be a decent start.” Previous generations that were more physically active and adopted the unhealthy lifestyles we are now trying to eliminate.

The fact of the matter is, these dietary guidelines have only been around for 30 years or so, compared to the use of penicillin, for instance, which has been around for arguably over a century. Needless to say, critiquing nutritional research for the advances made in this issue of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is as obvious as it is superfluous. For decades, the committee that determined the dietary guidelines has recommended limiting intake of high fat and high cholesterol foods. Because of the increased intake of these foods along with the increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease and other nutrition-related disease, this suggestion was not completely unfounded. As more and more nutrition-related research on this topic became apparent, the guidelines finally changed. But not before critics came in judging every step along the way.

The author of the Op-Ed piece states, “Much of the epidemiological data underpinning the government’s dietary advice comes from studies run by Harvard’s school of public health. In 2011, directors of the National Institute of Statistical Sciences analyzed many of Harvard’s most important findings and found that they could not be reproduced in clinical trials.”

Again, the science of nutrition in 2011 has a much different landscape than that of the 1980's. Of course, the committee that helps to produce the dietary guidelines would not change the recommendations every 5 years based on a few studies. Extensive “good” research should exist before suggestions are made to the general public. The new guidelines suggest we reduce our intake of salt and added sugars, which contribute to a great deal of our nutrition-related health concerns. Focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains (due to higher fiber content, which directly reduces blood cholesterol levels), and fish (which contains omega 3 fatty acids that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and inflammation) while concentrating more on the entire plate over individual nutrients is the best advice given by the USDA… ever. We don't eat a plate of folate, calcium, and potassium… we eat chicken breast, collard greens, asparagus, potatoes, cheese, pork chops, apples, and we should enjoy it.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are not perfect. In fact, they are far from it - given the information that is available to us in the current climate of nutrition research. As this research becomes more advanced, more about the food we eat will be discovered, leading to more accurate (and likely different) recommendations. Did the “government get it all wrong?” No. Are we getting the best of what we know? I believe so. 

So what do you do, as a consumer and a recipient of all things nutrition-related? Consume a diet low in salt, low in added sugars, that is rich in real food. Choose whole grains over refined ones. Drink tons of water. Purchase fish, tempeh, chicken, shrimp, pork, tofu - whatever protein fits into your life and dietary choices. Limit excessive intake of carbohydrate rich foods and replace them with more fruits and vegetables - frozen, canned (no-salt-added), or fresh. Be real. Cook with those that you love. Do not trust nutrition charlatans that write for the New York Times Opinion column.

As always, Happy Eating.

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