“In early 1977, after years of discussion, scientific review, and debate, the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, led by Senator George McGovern, recommended Dietary Goals for the American people. The Committee recommended that the American diet
- Increase carbohydrate intake to 55 to 60 percent of calories
- Decrease dietary fat intake to no more than 30 percent of calories, with a reduction in intake of saturated fat, and recommended approximately equivalent distributions among saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats to meet the 30 percent target
- Decrease cholesterol intake to 300 mg per day
- Decrease sugar intake to 15 percent of calories
- Decrease salt intake to 3 g per day”
Do you notice anything weird about this? I do, and so have some others. It doesn’t mention food.
No foods are mentioned. Only things like carbohydrate, monounsaturated fats, and cholesterol. Are those foods? Nope. They are nutrients (whatever that is).McGovern’s Dietary Goals were a key step in nutritional history that clenched the rule of “nutritionism” over food, and led the American public into a lot of confusion about what’s healthy and what’s not. Obviously we are still confused because statistics show that even though we have these nice Dietary Goals, obesity has been on the rise.
If McGovern’s Dietary Goals said something like, “eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and less high fat meat, egg and dairy products,” maybe the public would be a little better off. Now listen close, because the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition gets scary fast. The truth is, McGovern proposed nutritional guidelines that listed foods. In fact, the quote above is part of McGovern’s proposed guidelines. More fruits, veggies, whole grains. Less meat, egg, and dairy. But that version did not get approved. Powerful people from the meat, dairy, and sugar industries, many from McGovern’s own state, would not have it. They demanded that the “eat less” language be removed, because THEY certainly did not want Americans eating less of those things. They would go out of business. McGovern was forced to retreat. The language was changed to the nutrient based guidelines above plus the recommendation to eat less fat and cholesterol and eat “more lean meats.” The meat and dairy industry managed to change the language to pin fat and cholesterol as the bad guys, and keep meat and low fat dairy as the good guys. The result is, we the people have a lovely set of guidelines telling us to “eat more” (low fat things), and so I guess we ate more, and more, and got obese. Of course there are many factors, known and unknown, that have led to the obesity problem, but this change in language is definitely one of the big ones. Here’s a few examples of the related public health issues:
1. It has made it easy for marketers to sell their unhealthy processed food products with claims about the nutrients that fit in with the accepted nutritional guidelines. Little Debbie’s can claim “Low Fat.” Potato chips claim “No Trans Fats.” But they still make YOU fat. But marketing won’t tell you that.
Butter imitations are a good example of this too. They rearrange the molecules every so often to keep up with the latest health studies: low fat, low cholesterol, no trans fat, etc. People then buy it, thinking they are being healthy, assuming that scientists have figured out all the necessary nutrients for health and they have put them into a plastic tub for you to spread on your toast. But this is not true. Scientists are not even close to understanding all the aspects of how food interacts with our bodies. Which takes us to number two.
2. It gives the illusion of complete understanding of food science. Just look at the history of margarine, or even better, of infant formulas. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infant_formula) The nutritionist just don’t know how to make it like the mommies do, even now, in the enlightened age of “nutritionism.”
The truth is, we don’t understand how food works, no matter what the health claims on the labels say. That doesn’t mean we don’t know anything though. What we do have is a lot of research that shows strong correlations between diet and health. For example, The China Study, has shown over 100 correlations between diet and health & disease. The China Study points toward this recommendation: eat plant based whole foods; don’t eat animal products. Sounds similar to McGovern’s original guidelines, doesn’t it. This brings us to number three.
3. Our current guidelines do not reflect research, but the concerns of the self-interested food industries. And things haven’t changed much since 1977. Even though the most comprehensive nutrition study we have (China Study) points to the fact that meat and dairy cause disease, you won’t see that story in your government approved dietary recommendations. The myth of the benefits of meat and dairy has successfully embedded itself into public consciousness. We think we need animal protein and we are convinced that milk gives us strong bones, while the latest observational and clinical research do not support these claims.
4. Doctors don’t study nutrition, but they do recommend the recommended guidelines. At least, many and I would venture to say, most, advise their patients to follow those commonly known recommendations. Have you heard them from your doctor? You get the report back that your cholesterol is a bit too high. What to do about it, “eat a low fat, low cholesterol diet,” and they will also probably tell you to go on medication to lower your cholesterol. Because you know who else is making big bucks of this public confusion? Yep. The pharmaceutical industry. And hello, we have another big issue:
5. REAL CURES ARE HIDDEN from common knowledge due to the interests of the food, pharmaceutical, and medical industries. And I’m not just talking about cures for the common cold. I’m talking about the main killers of America: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. The best research out there shows that a plant based whole foods diet, with the exclusion of animal products, can prevent and reverse the diseases listed above.
Fortunately, word is getting out. There are many documentaries, books, blogs, and published research that are available to the public. We are realizing that we have to take our health into our own hands, because the recommended Dietary Goals have not helped. Don’t be fooled by the mirage of nutritionism and marketing. Do your research. Be smart and be healthy. Michael Pollan, in In Defense of Food, puts forth a nice simple guideline for you to start with: ”Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”
Here’s my list of things that I read that would be Works Cited if I was being that formal in my writing but it’s really my Everybody Should Read This list:
- The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, Phd (full title: “The China Study:The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet Weight Loss and Long Term Health.” Epic.)
- In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
- Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
- Skinny Bitches (this book is so clever in its presentation. Its like disguised as a diet book for women who want to be skinny, then its like, BAM, dish out the dirt on the food industry like crazy!! Don’t read it if you don’t like curse words or being called a lazy slob.)
- Forks Over Knives (Features Dr. Campbell from the China Study and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. If you do nothing else, watch this documentary. Its on Netflix.)
- Food Matters (Documentary)
- Food Inc. (Documentary. Reveals the gross terrible yuck behind your cheeseburger)
- Dying to Have Known (documentary about Gerson Therapy)
Also some articles on the internet regarding the Mcgovern Guidelines: