Every single post this week is important in helping you lose weight/gain weight, become fit and healthy. However leaving out this important step will not lead you into a healthier lifestyle, yet prevent you from becoming well. The right mindset and exercise will almost always follow up with a healthy diet. But what is a healthy diet? Let’s look first at what the USDA determines what a healthy diet consists of. Then, I will tell you what I believe it actually consists of.
The USDA Food Pyramid
Photo Courtesy of TheWashingtonPost.com
In this pyramid (a funny description to me nowadays, and I will explain why in the next section), we have different food groups with different recommended daily proportions. Working our way up from the bottom to the top, we have grains, vegetables and fruits, protein (meat, dairy, nuts and seeds) and a “moderate” amount of fats and sweets.
The recommended serving of grains is 6-11. Sound like a lot? That’s what I thought too, until I actually saw what the majority of people are eating. Most people eat grains in large quantities at meals, or in the forms of crackers, cookies, cakes, bread, pasta, cereal, etc. Therefore, most people are meeting this requirement, or even exceeding it. The pyramid also mentions that the goal for your grains should be having at least half of them come from the whole grain (whole wheat and brown rice, for example).
With vegetables we have a recommendation of getting at least 3-5 a day, but this is also combined with the recommended serving of fruit per day. What the USDA is saying is you should really only have 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. My thoughts on this to come…
Animal protein in the form of meat and dairy (and vegetarian protein srouces) make up a smaller amount of the pyramid.2-3 servings of low-fat dairy and 2-3 servings of lean meat (or nuts) make up these two groups.
Fats and sweets are at the very top of the pyramid, being grouped as “use sparingly”, with the oils mentioned as being from a vegetable source. Saturated fats should be limited, and sugar kept low.
What’s the Problem with This Picture?
As you hopefully know by now, I am not a fan of using this pyramid as a way of healthy eating. Many people have said before, but I will echo the statement: When you follow a pyramid, your body will eventually look like one. This uniform recommendation for all people is a disaster for our health, and promotes unhealthy foods and eating habits.
Let’s start off with the grains. I did a post about grains, and how I went “grain free” for e month. I know that I do well on a very low-grain diet, one that doesn’t involve gluten and comes from a whole source. Most people, however, do very well on grains, but I believe this is the minority of the population. Every body has different rates of metabolism, absorption and assimilation, and therefore it is unwise to tell all people to follow one, uniform eating plan.
Grains are high in carbohydrate, making them much higher on the glycemic index compared to other good sources of carbs, like vegetables and fruits. When we eat high glycemic foods, like grains, our insulin levels go up rapidly, and then go down rapidly. Insulin helps get energy into our cells, but a daily and rapid onset of it rushing into our systems can lead to weight gain. This is because when we have too much insulin floating around in our blood, and it is not used for energy, it gets stored as fat. Having high insulin levels can also speed up the rate at which we age, decrease insulin sensitivity (leading to diabetes), promote diseases like cancer, and has even shown to be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
I hardly ever consume grains anymore, but when I do I make sure I soak and/or sprout the grain. Soaking the grain helps make it more digestible by the body, and makes it easier to assimilate the proper nutrients. Digestion is SO important for losing weight or maintaing a healthy weight, because if we are holding on to something, like undigested food, it will create a bloated feeling in the stomach and add to the pounds. Sometimes it has the opposite effect, making people lose weight, but this is rare (again, every body is different!). Sprouting makes the grain digest more like a vegetable, which I find extremely fascinating, and also increases vitamin and mineral content.
Grains that I recommend if you are just starting to transition to a low-grain diet, or if you are just trying to replace your grains with healthier options, is sprouted wheat (this contains gluten, which can be a problem for many, even without noticing it), barely, oats and rye. Brown rice can also be used. You can find sprouted breads in your grocery store in the frozen food sections. These days the only grain like carbohydrates I consume are sprouted buckwheat and quinoa. These are protein rich (quinoa is a complete protein, supplying all 8 essential amino acids) seeds are gluten free, grain free, while still providing healthy carbohydrates for those who do well on carbs.
Vegetables and fruits are my favorite food groups, especially when it comes to managing weight, blood sugar and providing you with essential nutrients to aid in metabolism. The only probelm with this food pyramid is that it promotes quite a bit of fruit, which is pretty high in fructose carbohydrates. We should know by know about the damaging effects that fructose has on the body when it is exposed to it in excess or in its free forms (high fructose corn syrup, for example).
Fructose in fruits, however, are bound by fiber and other nutrients that blunt its harming effects on the body. However an excess of these sugars in the diet will lead to elevated insulin levels in many people, and if you are looking to lose weight, it is best to have 1-2 servings of fruits per day, maybe more if you consume mostly berries (these fruits are low in fructose carbohydrates).
Be sure to eat fruit about 20-30 minutes before eating a meal with protein and fat. This is because fruit takes only 20-30 minutes to digest, whereas fat and protein stays in the digestion system for a couple (or perhaps a few) hours. If you eat fruit after a meal, you will be placing a quick digesting food on top of a slow digesting meal. The fruit starts to ferment, because it can’t digest and go anywhere, and can back up your digestive system. As I mentioned before, having a healthy digestion system is on the keys to losing weight and maintaining a healthy body.
Most vegetables are fair game for me, however I do not consume potatoes or corn. These are very high on the glycemic index and the carbohydrates that they contain turn into sugar very quickly when digested by the body. This will again elevate your insulin levels rapidly, promoting weight gain. If you are going to eat potatoes, I recommend having sweet potatoes, as this is very low on the glycemic index and doesn’t have the insulin raising effects as white potatoes. Boiled potatoes have a lower glycemic index than baked, and if you add some fat and protein (real, organic butter, raw cheese) will also help lower the glycemic index. However, watch your proportions if you are trying to lose weight–however most of the time if you listen to your body, it will tell you when you have had enough.
Meat and dairy consumption has been on the decline as promoters of a “healthy lifestyle” have advocated a mostly vegetarian diet, consisting of low-fat dairy products, and even lean meats. I do have problems with this, as the research I have done denotes something entirely different.
Some people have a body type that does very well on a mostly vegetarian diet. These are mainly people who can handle more carbohydrates, and feel good when the majority of the calories comes from these sources. Some people are “protein types”, where they feel better with the majority of their calories coming from fat and protein. Others are “mixed types”.
Advocating a diet as being mostly vegetarian and high in carbs for all people can be a disaster, especially when you consider all the “types” of bodies out there. Low-fat, pasteurized milk, yogurt and cheese all seem to be healthier, but in reality, are not.
Milk is one of natures perfect foods, but only when it is in its whole, raw form. Clean raw milk supply the necessary fat needed to help digest and assimilate the nutrients found within. Also, most of the vitamins are only soluble in fat, therefore if you take the fat out (as in low fat milk), you can assimilate the nutrients (meaning it isn’t bioavailable). Also, the protein in pasteurized milk has been denatured due to the heating process, making it very different than what the body is used to consuming over the eons of evolution that humans have been drinking milk (pasteurized milk is relatively new). Many people with lactose intolerance do well on raw milk–however, if you are going to drink raw milk, please find a clean source, one that is certified to sell raw milk to consumers. Milk that you find in the grocery store that is low fat (2%, 1% and fat-free), have powdered milk added to them by manufactures to give it body. When you powder milk, you expose the cholesterol to a lot of air and heat, leading to oxidation. Oxidized cholesterol is a big component to heart disease. I suspect that this might also happen during pasteurization. Read more about healthy milk here.
Since the turn of the century, America has replaced healthy fats like butter, lard (yes, lard!), whole milk, full fat meat from free range animals and eggs, with polyunsaturated fats and oils (vegetable oils). Butter has been replaced by margarine (trans fat), low fat milk with whole, and lean meats or even nuts and seeds for complete proteins. Statistics have shown that during this time period preventable diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity and stroke sky rocketed. “Fat-free” became the ‘health’ slogan, yet people are getting sicker and sicker. Saturated fat and cholesterol make up the integrity of our cell walls and help can actually decrease our risk for being overweight (more to come on that in Part Two).
So How Come This Pyramid Is NOT Working?
The recommendation for the over consumption of grains, especially refined grains, cutting out healthy fats and replacing it with man made ones, as well as not addressing that every person’s body is built differently is what is contributing to weight problems, as well as other diseases (both physical and mental).
The USDA is currently giving farmers over $15 million to produce soybeans and corn, two products which are mainly genetically engineered, found in many processed foods and can actually increase our weight. Unfermented soy, seen as a health food, can actually suppress thyroid function, leading to a slow metabolism, whereas corn stimulates insulin. These two foods should be avoided at all cost. Fermented soy like natto, miso and tempeh are extremely healthy, and should be consumed for a healthy weight and lifestyle, however the majority of the money the USDA spends on soy is for its use in cheap, processed foods.
A U.S. District judge ruled that the USDA came within violation when it made the food pyramid. Those chosen to be on the committee to construct the food pyramid had direct ties to food industries and conflicts of interest between food industries and the USDA proved this ruling true. Another example of the evidence that the USDA and the FDA are not there to protect your health. Read the full story about this here.
Average BMI has also increased, unfortunately, due to this shift in nutritional advice. 100 years ago and beyond we nourished our bodies with healthy, natural foods. But today, we are replacing them with processed junk foods, man made foods and foods that are not found in nature. No wonder our health of our bodies have degraded. Protein has also been seen as being the macronutrient we need least, however it is so crucial for every part of our body, much more than carbohydrates.
In the nest part of this two part series on diet, I will give you foods that WILL help reset your metabolism, giving you a lean and healthy body, one that is healthy for your biochemistry. Whether you need to gain weight or lose it, I will address it in the next post. Let me know in the comments section below, or email me, the foods you normally eat and if you have a problem with your health or weight. I will do my best to bring these foods up in the next post, or a following post.
PLUS–I will be giving you my favorite metabolism boosting, health and beauty promoting food that will help you slim down, stay fit and be healthy. You might be surprised by this food as being healthy, but if you know me and you have been reading this blog for awhile, you might not be. See you then.
This is The Healthy Advocate.