THE WATCH: The 2015 Updated The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are jointly issued and updated every 5 years by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The guidelines provide authoritative advice about consuming fewer calories, making informed food choices, and being physically active to attain and maintain a healthy weight, reduce risk of chronic disease, and promote overall health. You can download the PDF right here, but the media at large has honed in on the updates about saturated fats hence my catchy but facetious title ‘Butter is Better’. Some of the interesting articles on this subject ( and more comprehensive than most media reports) can be found in respected media outlets such as New York Times , The Atlantic , and NPR’s ‘The Salt’ . But I am here to highlight the ‘gray areas’ and have you focus on ‘What Matters’.
WHAT MATTERS: You might not know that this same eating wisdom encouraged by the dietary committee has been around for centuries and has been practiced by numerous ancient cultures around the world. Currently respected by most nutritionist is the ‘Mediterranean Diet.’ We have explored this popular diet quite a bit in my Healthy Epicurean department of this same blog. What I am sharing today at ‘The Watch’ is what was notable in the new 2015 report just released, how the media has shared it across the information highway, and how it will be interpreted by many people. Before I drop the ‘bombshell information’ extracted from this report I want to share the opening of the dietary report with you that you may have not seen in the media headlines.
‘Humans require a wide range of essential micronutrients and macronutrients for normal growth and development and to support healthy aging throughout the life cycle. Essential nutrients, including most vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids, water and fiber, must be obtained through foods and beverages because they cannot for the most part be endogenously synthesized, or are not endogenously synthesized in adequate amounts to need recommended intakes. Understanding the extent to which the U.S. population and various age, sex, and racial/ethnic groups within the population achieve nutrient intake requirements through available food and beverage intake, including foods and beverages that are enriched or fortified, is an important task of the DGAC. ‘
The first and last sentence of this excerpt is key and WHAT MATTERS to your health. The first because it emphasizes micro-nutrients and macro-nutrients are both important to an ideal diet ( and we can only get both when they are synthesized from eating real food) and the last sentence because it acknowledges bio-individuality. Bio-Individuality means we are all different and carry our own unique biology, chemistry and genetic predisposition. To be fair, the dietary committee does clearly state “Strategies should be based on the individual’s preferences and health status and consider the sociocultural influences on lifestyle behaviors that relate to long-term behavior maintenance.” In other words or in my words…BE YOUR OWN GURU! This is why they call it a ‘Guideline’.
It is a popular thing to do, that is to blame our government for misleading us with their published reports every five years, but the fact is we rarely follow it or read it thoroughly ourselves. The big bombshell I mentioned earlier is we NOW can safely but moderately eat more saturated fats (found in butter, eggs, meat) just like the ancient cultures I highlighted above. BUT this recommendation was part of a much larger contextual report covering all kinds of data related to ideal health and the ramifications of replacing healthy nutrients with larger and unhealthy portions of carbs. This report was produced to help create a guideline not a manifesto for a high-fat diet plan!
If you are health conscious you may know this, but for many people the ‘major headlines’ on the local TV news is what they hear, or perhaps they read a short paragraph in a mainstream magazine. What they are hearing based on sound-bite information is BUTTER IS OKAY–HAVE AT IT! When actually the report is really saying ‘saturated fats’ eaten in healthy moderation is okay but it’s still recommended to try to eat unsaturated healthy fats more often. ‘Butter is Better’ is back in vogue because there has been a lot of research on margarine highlighting its unhealthy trans-fats and artificial ingredients. Yet we wouldn’t have margarine if we didn’t have medical and scientific research back in the late 70’s concluding that eating saturated fats ( that would be butter) is the leading cause of heart disease.
There’s more to it than this–just Google ‘margarine’ and you will discover how it has barreled through our diets over the years for all kinds of socio-economic reasons. I always recommend following Marion Nestle’s blog ‘Food Politics’ because she keeps you aware of all the food trends and YES the politics behind them. Because unfortunately ‘we are not in Kansas anymore’!
WWB TAKEAWAY: What you will find in this 571 page dietary report essentially comes down to Michael Pollan’s quote from his book In Defense of Food; An Eaters Manifesto.” Eat Food, Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” There it is, a very simple diet plan without restrictions. But the gray area we almost always overlook is good health is the maintenance and fine tuning of our body, mind and spirits. Our well-being can be affected by environmental factors such as pollution, bad chemicals and antibiotics in our food, lack of exercise, and stress factors too numerous to list in this post. The new 2015 guideline does try to address overall wellness but has received criticism for over-reaching. Look closely at the critics, because when the President of the Pork Council comes out and says “It appears that the advisory committee is more interested in addressing what’s trendy among foodies than providing science based advice for the average American diet.”, you have to consider the source. The pork Prez has his own ‘special interests’ to protect and he’s focused on his bottom line. But please, please remember you’re not ‘average’!
It turns out what is sustainable for the earth and it’s animals is also very healthy for us because if you haven’t noticed we are all interdependent. Mostly plants, a little bit of protein ( fish, eggs or meat) is basically the foundation of the Mediterranean diet and is one of the most ‘highly researched diets’ on earth. Yes you can have an egg, and yes you can have butter, but you still have to take into account how much saturated fat is in your overall diet and decide wisely how much butter you want to be eating on any given day.
Yep, health is maintenance and we have to be conscious about what we eat and where it comes from. And don’t get me started about exercise! Most of the cultures who boast the highest number of centenarians all walk and move around quite a bit. Read the book ‘Blue Zones’ and you will learn that there are many ‘social factors’ contributing to centenarians longevity and their diets are indeed limited in meat consumption. My big takeaway here is there are always ‘general guidelines’ to any diet, but deciding what’s ‘ideal’ for you is your INDIVIDUAL choice and responsibility.
So be your own guru, enjoy life and take good care of yourself! This is what it means to be a “Healthy Epicurean’ (my blog department and lifestyle term) and always remember there are many roads to achieving this status. And some just might include pork! Explore them all here with me and follow this blog to meet the most interesting authors, chefs, nutritional experts, and wise visionaries presenting their knowledge, expertise, and wisdom. If you do, I promise you will ultimately be ‘comfortable in your own skin’ because you will be making ideal healthy choices for your unique beautiful self. And I repeat you’re definitely NOT average! 😉
Lauroly, Founder of World Wise Beauty