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On Monday, February 14, the Weston A. Price Foundation made its criticisms of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines crystal clear. For anyone who had assumed the governmental agency must be doing its best to ensure the health of Americans, Monday’s press conference was a wake-up call.
Not only did the Foundation explain the problem with low-fat, high-carb diets and their particularly insidious effects on growing children, but it also laid bare the troubling conflict of interest in having an agency that promotes commodities tell us what we should eat (hint: it’s a lot of those processed grain commodities!)
The video of the press conference is a wonderful starting place for anyone interested in understanding how we got to a place where so many people feel unwell and are grappling with diabetes and obesity. We have been encouraged to follow an untested diet rather than eat traditional foods that would sustain us as they did our ancestors.
I hope that this critique and the new alternative guidelines the Foundation is presenting in its Healthy 4 Life materials will spur debate and will result in fewer children — and adults — being led on the path to ill health. As someone whose fertility, thyroid and overall health were severely compromised by an over-consumption of soy and grain, I’m thrilled to have this information getting out to the public.
My report on the press conference follows.
Foundation founder and President Sally Fallon Morell, author of Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats opened the press conference with an overview of scientific research that was ignored in the development of the USDA dietary guidelines, which were revised in 2010. She discussed the benefits of following traditional diets that contain plenty of saturated fats, which she explained are crucial for many functions in the body and for the development of healthy brains in children.
Fallon Morell noted that the USDA has spoken about “nutrient-dense” foods in school lunch only in terms of fruits and vegetables when those foods are, in fact, poor in key nutrients for optimal health. It is saturated fats, she explained, that support cell membranes and that put calcium in our bones. These fats are needed for optimal lung health, and the kidneys and immune system depend on them as well.
Since schools must comply with USDA guidelines in order to receive federal funding for school lunch, children’s meals have an upper limit for cholesterol and fat but not for carbohydrates or sugar. With whole milk no longer widely offered, children have the choice of plain low-fat milk or flavored low-fat milk, which has as much sugar as soda, hence the nickname “soda in drag.” It is full-fat dairy and other cholesterol-rich foods that contain vitamins A, D, E, and K, choline, and other minerals vital for brain and neurological system development.
Cholesterol is the “mother of all hormones,” Fallon Morell explained; it is responsible for the production of sex hormones and hormones that aid in healing and stress. “When we restrict cholesterol-rich foods, we are taking away the very foods children need for optimal brain development,” she added, citing low-fat diets as one of the reasons children struggle academically.
When people are denied foods in their full-fat state, they simply eat more of lesser foods in order to obtain the same number of calories or sodium. Fallon Morell described the school lunch children are served as “Puritanical” and said it leads to children to seek out what she calls “pornographic foods” in the afternoon to compensate for the missing calories.
In references to scientific literature, personal experience, and professional anecdotal evidence, additional speakers demonstrated how the USDA dietary guidelines negatively impact the health of the United States. Speakers also criticized the politicized nature of these guidelines that come from an agency with a vested interest in promoting certain foods so that they will be bought.
Morton Satin of The Salt Institute reiterated Fallon Morell’s point about junk food, explaining that when presented with low-sodium alternatives, people simply eat more to sate their need for salt. He also discussed the manipulation of data to claim that low-sodium diets are healthy when in fact they increase the risk of obesity. Satin cited a Harvard University study that found that healthy people placed on a low-sodium diet developed insulin resistance within seven days; the latest iteration of the USDA dietary guidelines might thus promote an epidemic of diabetes, Satin said.
Satin was just one of the day’s speakers who noted that while the Mediterranean diet has been held up as a healthy model, it contains far more sodium and fat than USDA guidelines allow. Satin expressed concern that studies showing various negative effects of low-salt diets – including lower birth weight, lower cognitive function, and higher rates of falls and fractures – have all been ignored in the development of the USDA guidelines, which he called a product of ideology, not a product of science.
Continuing the critique of the agency’s motivations, Adele Hite of the Healthy Nation Coalition opened her remarks demanding that we ask why studies like these are being ignored. A PhD candidate in nutrition epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, Hite became obese and sick when she attempted to follow USDA guidelines and got well by shifting her diet to include saturated fats and other traditional foods. She has worked with diabetics who have reversed their disease with this approach.
Hite said that the USDA “disregards scientific evidence” in order to increase the demand for U.S. agriculture products by telling the public to eat a grain-heavy diet despite the fact that carbohydrates are biologically unnecessary and highly addictive. The recommended diet is resulting in higher health care costs and diminished quality of life.
Hite noted that the first set of dietary guidelines produced in 1980 was created by politicians, not scientists, and she made the case for an independent agency to take over development of dietary guidelines. “The only way to grow our agriculture is to increase processing,” she said, explaining that USDA is motivated to promote foods that it wants to sell and is not motivated to protect the health of the nation. “No government agency should be given so much power without checks and balances,” Hite argued.
Other speakers agreed with the criticism of the guidelines and the means by which they were created. Peter Farnham of The Nutrition and Metabolism Society said that diets with 40% of calories coming from carbohydrates are to blame for an increase in obesity. The only people for whom that kind of diet is appropriate are athletes.
Farnham also noted that studies claiming deleterious effects of a high-fat diet have only been measured in a high-carbohydrate diet, not in a diet low in carbs. He called for an independent body to develop guidelines and to include the research that shows the problems with carbohydrates.
Registered Dietician Pam Schoenfeld of Reinvent Your Diet described her realization that animal products are vital for health, contrary to what she was taught. “Well-meaning dieticians take information they’re told is evidence-based and telling unsuspecting people to follow” these guidelines. She reiterated others’ position that the USDA guidelines will lead people to be “less well nourished over time and more prone to obesity.”
Fallon Morell added that the USDA has not been open to her organization’s concerns. There wasn’t a single member of the committee actually present at the oral testimony sessions that were required to be held before the adoption of the newest guidelines, so public input was in name only.
The Weston A. Price Foundation was named for the dentist who researched the health of cultures around the world in the 1920s and went on to sing the praises of traditional diets. Modern diets put an emphasis on shelf life and convenience, Fallon Morell explained. Processing minimizes nutrients in the diet, and in order to solve our current health crisis, the Foundation contends, we must go back to traditional foods.
One of the goals of the Foundation is to make sure people know that they do not need to be afraid of high-fat foods as the USDA guidelines would imply. Fallon Morell said she did not expect to change the system or the USDA guidelines, but she does hope that the Foundation’s work will at least convince parents to make their children’s lunches.
The Foundation’s new Healthy 4 Life guidelines call for four main groups: animal foods, grains, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats. The complete booklet, including recipes, is available in full as a PDF and can be ordered off the Foundation’s website for $10.