Is it possible that the nutritional guidelines you are told to follow by government bodies and many health organisations are causing you to be fatter and sicker rather than healthier?

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Consider the following diet…

Breakfast:
Cereal with skimmed milk
Glass orange juice

Lunch:
2 slices wholegrain bread (no butter)
Chicken & lettuce

Dinner:
Wholegrain pasta
Grilled steak trimmed of all fat
Veg of choice

Snacks:
0% fat yogurt
Slice of wholegrain toast and a banana
Brown scone and low-fat butter

Do those meals seem healthy to you?

If you answered ‘no’, well done you have answered correctly! If you answered ‘yes’, then reading this post may just prove to be one of the most important things you read today.

freeimages.co.uk food images

Look at the nutritional guidelines produced by any government body or major health organisation and you will see the same advice given over and over.

Get most of your calories from carbohydrates, especially “heart-healthy” wholegrains.

Eat less fat, especially that evil saturated fat.

Restrict the salt you use in order to keep your blood pressure in check. And so on.

Straight from the HealthPromotion.ie website:
“This means you should eat:
• Plenty of bread, rice potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods
• Plenty of fruit and vegetables
• Some milk, cheese and yoghurt
• Some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein, and
• Just a small amount of foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar”

In Ireland we are advised to base our food choices on the food pyramid(PDF), while the NHS in the UK uses the food plate. Both essentially do the same thing; they are a handy visual tool for eating a diet that fits in with government guidelines. Just make sure you eat the recommended number of servings from each food group and you’re good to go. Great, all so simple!

But what if eating according to these government guidelines is making you put on weight or preventing you from dropping fat? What if eating this way is causing you to feel tired throughout the day and lack the energy you need to do the things you want to do? What if it is causing you to fail to perform to your peak potential as an athlete? And worst of all, what if eating this way is gradually deteriorating your health? Is the food pyramid wrong?

Is the food pyramid making YOU fat and sick? Click to Tweet this quote

Below I list what I consider to be the 3 key issues that make the food pyramid a terrible template for basing your diet on. Really, each one deserves a thorough blog post of its own (something which will probably happen in time) but here I will just make a concise case against each rather than include a lot of accompanying explanations and references. (If you want links to scientific papers based on any of the points below feel free to ask me and I should be able to shoot some over to you.)

  1. WHOLEGRAINS AS MAJOR PROPORTION OF DIET

For so long now, wholegrain food products (wholegrain breads, pasta, flour, etc.) have been touted as healthy that it is viewed as common knowledge amongst the public. But the scientific research tells an entirely different story.

Many of the cereal grains, such as wheat, barley, corn and rye for example, are extremely problematic for many people. Yet most people do not even realise the harm the ingestion of these grains are doing to them.

Wheat seems to be by far the most problematic for most people. Wheat contains a protein called gluten, which primarily causes problems within the gut (GI tract). Many people are aware of coeliac disease being a complete intolerance to gluten, thus the treatment for the disorder being a lifelong gluten-free diet. With Coeliac disease, ingestion of gluten triggers off an immune response. However, recent research shows that there is widespread prevalence of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). Gluten is being linked with more and more problems all the time, ranging from gut problems such as IBS to various autoimmune diseases.

While some grains, such as corn or oats, do not contain gluten, bear in mind that they do contain proteins similar in structure that may to cause a reaction in those people who are sensitive or intolerant to gluten.

Even leaving aside the gluten issue, there are other problems associated with grain consumption that do not make them worthy of being in a healthy diet. While it is true that wholegrains contain more micronutrients on paper than say refined grains (think products made with white flour), the majority of these are not actually able to be absorbed by our gut (bio-unavailable). This is due to the work of anti-nutrients that are present in grains. These anti-nutrients bind to various micronutrients, preventing them from being able to be absorbed through the gut lining. And so in reality their nutrient density is low.

I should mention that some grains are far worse than others. Many people, for example, can tolerate some white rice perfectly well. Wheat seems to be the most problematic and I can’t see a reason why ANYONE should include it in their diet. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if I could only pick one food to eliminate from someone’s diet in order to provide the biggest bang for their buck, wheat would be it.

  1. LOW-FAT/HIGH-CARBOHYDRATE MACRONUTRIENT PROFILE

The concept of low-fat diets being healthy is one that has failed to go away. This is clear with a quick scan around any supermarket; low-fat and zero-fat versions of everything are in your face. In reality the food industry is the one profiting from the promotion of these low-fat products, not the consumer.

Thankfully the notion of “eating fat makes you fat” seems to slowly being shown up for the illogical nonsense it is. However, this still hasn’t hit home on enough of a widescale just yet, with “low-fat” Weightwatchers boxes filled with processed rubbish seemingly still flying off the shelves every week.

This is junk food.

Yes, that’s right; that low-fat, low-calorie lasagne-in-a-box is JUNK. RUBBISH. FILTH. Please don’t eat it.

Low-fat versions of, or substitutes for, various foods are a result of taking a decent food and making it bad. It usually results in the loss of key fat-soluble vitamins and replacement with added sugars. This is especially true of dairy produce.

This has all come about from the constant bashing of “high-fat diets”, “fatty foods” and “artery-clogging saturated fat” we hear in the media and, more worryingly, from our healthcare professionals.

Again, the scientific literature tells us differently. Many research papers have emerged over the past few years that finally seem to give some clear evidence that saturated fat is not to blame. None more so than this meta-analysis (a study combining the data from many original research trials) published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010. It clearly shows there is NO link between saturated fat consumption and heart disease.

Really it should be the final nail in the coffin of this out-dated notion, yet we are still being recommended to avoid saturated fat by government guidelines. The only real question is, how long will it be before the health promotion agencies, government bodies and medical professionals of this world all catch up with the literature?

At this point I could literally write 10 x 2,000 word posts on this subject (note: I actually intend on doing this very soon, so keep an eye out for those!) but I will resist for now and cut it here for the sake of brevity.

Quick tip: Don’t be afraid of full-fat butter. Don’t trim the fat off your steak. And feel free to eat as many eggs as you want! Seriously. Fat is not the problem people!

Just as detrimental as the ultra-low fat intakes the food pyramid promotes is its role in driving people towards an absurdly high consumption of carbohydrates. No doubt that with most of these coming from grains, it’s a recipe for disaster. However, the problem with the high carb intake goes way beyond grains.

Common recommendations are for a diet comprised of 60-70% of daily calories. For an average male this would be something in the region of 350g of carbohydrates per day. For a sedentary person, who say is not doing extremely intense training, this is a HUGE amount.

These carbohydrates will be broken down into glucose and released into the blood stream (i.e. blood sugar). This high blood glucose level triggers the body to release the hormone insulin. Insulin is an anabolic (growth-promoting) storage hormone. It does a great job in clearing glucose from the blood in order to return it to normal levels.

However, it does this by playing a role in the process of moving the glucose into cells via GLUT transporters. These cells can be either muscle or fat cells. From here the glucose can be converted to fatty acids and subsequently body fat (via glycerol-3-phosphate). Additionally, insulin plays a role in converting fatty acids circulating in the blood into stored body fat.

So we don’t want chronically high blood glucose and insulin levels. Unless you are an elite athlete there really is no need to be eating that high a volume of carbohydrates.

  1. LIMITING OF RED MEAT

This is another great example of something that people have been brainwashed into believing simply by the force of repetition. As they say, if you hear something enough times it’s hard not to start believing it.

meat

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The link between red meat and heart disease, cancer, mortality, etc. has only ever been that. An observational link that eating red meat leads to greater incidence of the said disease. Causation has NEVER been proved. Not a single research paper will you find that is able to demonstrate that eating red meat causes cancer, cardiovascular disease, type I diabetes or whatever illness it has been linked to.

And when we think about it, why would it?

It contains a massive amount of nutrition relative to most other foods. Beef (including the fat) is full of vitamin B12, zinc and iron, all of which you would struggle to get sufficient amounts of from white meat. In fact, vitamin B12 is not present in any plant foods and so read meat is critical for getting optimum amounts.

See a recurring theme here? DON’T listen to conventional nutrition guidelines.

The food pyramid robs you of tasty, nutritious foods (fatty steak, butter, eggs), advises you to eat nutrient-poor and gut-irritating grains and sends your insulin production into a chronically elevated state.

So that’s my take. What do you think?

How does your eating compare to that recommended by the pyramid? Have you been avoiding fat? Have you tried ditching grains before? What is your take on what a healthy diet is?

All of this and more will be discussed on the upcoming Advanced Nutrition Course @ Elite FPA

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In next week’s installment I will be discussing the idea behind “Cookie Cutter” “One size fits all” diet approaches and why they DON’T work.

By Danny Lennon