Intro to Healthy Diet Options
What constitutes a healthy diet?
There is much debate about the answer to this question. In the media, on the internet and among health professionals the answers vary widely. Yet when we look at the science, the answers are quite simple.
People in the Western world are dying from an excess of rich foods. Heart disease, stroke and cancer account for more than half of the deaths in the Western World. If we were to add other lifestyle diseases: diabetes, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, Respiratory illnesses, auto-immune diseases; the results are even more staggering. Yet, all we need to do is look to specific areas of Asia, Africa and other pockets of the world to find places where heart disease, stroke and cancer are almost non-existent. Indeed the World Health Organization statistics show that many European countries and the United States not only have higher rates of the diseases mentioned above but also have lower longevity stats. Indeed, the US ranks 49th; behind not only Japan and Hon Kong but far poorer countries like Singapore and Bosnia.
We now have ample data from diets all over the world to determine what a healthy diet looks like. Scientists can (and have) compared diets & lifestyles in different parts of the world. They have been able to determine the best diet by comparing diet & lifestyle habits, disease rates, death rates and other factors in populations throughout the world. What they have found is fairly straight-forward: those whose diets consist mainly of whole plant-foods: fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, legumes, nuts & seeds and only small amounts of animal protein have a much lower rate of the degenerative conditions mentioned above. They also have much lower rates of other health issues I’ve not yet mentioned: arthritis, obesity, Osteoporosis- to mention just a few more.
To many looking at this list, the first thing they will say is that genetics must play a role. It has been shown time & time that this isn’t the case. Just 2 examples: Japanese women have a very low rate of breast cancer. However, Japanese women who move to US AND adopt a western diet have cancer rates similar to other US females. A second example: Okinawa is well-known for its longevity and extremely low rates of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. However, Okinawans now in their middle ages that have adopted a Western style diet are experiencing a much higher rate of heart disease and diabetes and lower longevity than their elders. Genetics does play a role but that role is far less than diet and lifestyle.
Having said that, let’s examine where one might find reliable information about diet and lifestyle:
The good news is that USDA has recently revamped their confusing pyramid (The UDSA Dietary Guidelines) in favor of a plate. There are several positive differences between the plate and the old pyramid. The plate now shows that fruits & vegetables should make up at least half of every meal. The plate doesn’t show sweets, oils and other foods that most of us are better off not consuming. However, the plate still shows all protein foods as equal. (No difference between a serving of bacon and a serving of beans according to the plate) It also shows dairy as an integral part of the diet. (We’ll discuss dairy separately.) It suggests that you make half of your grains ‘whole grain;’ implying that there is nutritional value in processed grains.
A quick look at the history and mission of the USDA will reveal the reasons: The USDA came into existence when President Lincoln signed the Agricultural Act of 1862. It’s mission is about leadership in food, agricultural and natural resources. (From the USDA website: We provide leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, and related issues based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management.) Its original charge was and still is about promoting farming & farmers. Unfortunately, it is this same organization that is now charged with developing nutritional guidelines for Americans. How can it tell Americans the truth about the foods it is bound to promote?
The American Dietetic Association (ADA):
This is the nutritional professionals group comprised mainly of Registered Dieticians. In theory, their advice should be sound. However, conflicts of interest affect many of their stances. For example, in 2008, the ADA reported that it accepted $123,000 in advertising, $1.8 million in sponsorships, and $308,000 in grants. In addition, it reported separately on groups that made donations of over $10,000 in the prior year; Mars, Kraft, Colgate-Palmolive and Coca-Cola were some of the companies named. In addition, they accepted over $4 million for programs and meetings (some of this was undoubtedly registration fees but much was sponsorship of the meetings as well). How can an organization that funds its programs with money from Mars and Kellogg tell you the truth about the foods these companies produce?
Further, the food conglomerates mentioned and others also donate heavily to universities and colleges where the ADA dieticians get their education.
The AMA and other Medical Professional Organizations:
The AMA has a long history of promoting ‘public safety’ that is really consolidating its power base. Most of the other medical organizations follow suit. Just a few examples: as far back as the 1920’s, the AMA worked at systematically closing homeopathic hospitals & marginalizing natural health practitioners. When they were done, there was no such thing as a homeopath or a naturopath that could hang out a shingle in this country. In the 1950’s, the AMA put so much pressure on Osteopaths, they basically agreed to buy into the AMA model and be absorbed by it. From the 1920’s until today, but most obviously in the 1960’s & 70’s, the AMA worked to contain & eliminate chiropractic. So strong was its effort, that in 1989, they and several other organizations were found guilty of violating the Sherman Anti-trust laws. While they have been forbidden by law from their former activities, not much has really changed. Several weeks ago, a chiropractic organization got a very curt letter in which a medical organization refused to allow the chiropractors to advertise in their journal.
The AMA and it’s brother organizations (along with the drug companies) also keep pressure on the FDA to limit pharmacists’ ability to compound drug under the guise of patient safety. Similar pressure has been exerted for the use of other natural compounds like tryptophan or herbal supplements. Yet the fact remains that drugs and medical procedures are inherently far more dangerous and result in far more deaths.
National Disease Interest Groups:
The American Diabetes Association, The American Heart Association and The American Cancer Society are just 3 examples of other organizations who take huge amounts of money from drug and food companies that result in conflicts of interest. The AHA’s website, for example comes up with only 1 reference when you type in ‘reversing heart disease’ and it is about a study on high doses of drugs; no reference to diet or lifestyle. Yet Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn has published numerous papers (CT scans included) on the patients he has helped with diet alone. Each of Dr. Esselstyn’s patients was told they were ‘terminal’. Yet on his diet, angina disappeared in days and they have never has another heart incident or procedure. His original study is over 20 years old.
Each of the national interest groups promotes a lifestyle that, to a degree is better than the Standard American Diet (SAD). Each of these organizations has well-meaning individuals who want to help the public. However, despite that and despite following these diets, Americans get sicker and sicker. It seems to be that if we are going to make any headway, we must begin to look elsewhere for our information and most importantly, begin to really examine who is making the claim, who pays them and the science behind the claims.
So now you have a clearer picture of why most of the better known organizations may have a biased view. In my next article, we’ll look at some ‘alternative’ sources and see what we can deduce.