Nutrition Headlines....But The Type That Actually Matter!

Last week, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (yes, that's a thing) released their 2015 report. If you're a geek about nutrition (*nodding head as I type this*), it gets you pretty jazzed.  But, for the other 99.7% of the normal population, the report just adds more noise in an already loud and crowded room.

Kanye West in a nutshell.

Kanye West in a nutshell.

So, WHY should you care?  After all, the new season of House of Cards comes out today (zooooomg!!!), and telling you to eat more fruits and vegetables is like saying "Kanye West is an asschump."  It's something we already know.  

Plus, wasn't it the same sort of nutrition guidelines that told everyone to be low-fat in the 90's?  And, since the whole low-fat take turned out to be worse for Americans, why should we even listen?

Touché.  Let me attack that argument before we even start.

1) I'd argue that the low-fat recommendation wasn't "wrong," per se.  Instead, the general guidelines to replace high saturated fat meats and processed foods, with naturally low fat fruits and vegetables still rings true.  Only, the guidelines to eat low-fat were hijacked by big food which proceeded to pump out Snackwells, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter (sorry, Fabio), and sugar-ladened alternatives to real food (low-fat Yogurt, cleverly disguised breakfast cereals).  Could the guidelines have been better worded and aimed in the 90's?  Sure....but they weren't completely incorrect.

1a) And, while I'm not against fat,  there's data showing that we never really cut the saturated fat (commonly called the "bad" fat) out of our diets in the first place.  Instead, we simply ate more calories overall - on sugary processed foods - making our diets lower in fat only in proportion to our total calories.  OK, rant over.

2) The nutrition guidelines come out every 5 years, and the panel is made up of some established nutrition experts - those that are wayyyy more qualified than the Food Babe, this ridiculous column authored by a meat lobbyist in the New York Times, or even myself.  I'm lucky enough to be married Lindsay who knows someone on the panel, and six degrees of separation later, I can tell you there is a ton of research and evidence-based debate that goes on behind the scenes.  Suffice to say, when they talk, y'all better listen.

So, now that I've talked up this big report, what exactly did they say?  That a healthier diet is one going to be 1) plant-based and 2) lower in red and processed meats.  

I know, I know....tell me something I don't know.  But here were the real big newsworthy items:

  • Stop fretting about your dietary cholesterol (seriously, eat the yolks, people!)
  • Reduce your intake of added sugar.  Immediately.  Or better yet, hop in your DeLorean and do it yesterday.

Surprise, surprise.  It's not like I've been saying all of the above for the past couple of years.....or, in my last two nutrition seminars.  <-------Yes, I was just patting myself on the back, and I took a bow in my living room.

Now, let's break this all down.  We've known for years that dietary cholesterol is really not that big of a deal....assuming you're not at risk for Cardiovascular diseases.  There are plenty of real foods that are high in cholesterol (seafood, eggs), but science has failed to show they'll actually raise the cholesterol in your blood.  What does raise the cholesterol in your blood?  All the stuff that we'd eat for breakfast instead of eggs - bagels, high sugar cereals, high sugar (but fat free!) yogurt, donuts and so on.

It's almost as if the committee finally realized that if you tell someone they can't eat something, you need to tell them what they can eat instead.  Which is why I was so pumped to read this sentence from their report:

An actual slide from my last presentation. Shocking, eh?

An actual slide from my last presentation. Shocking, eh?

 Additional strong evidence shows that it is not necessary to eliminate food groups or conform to a single dietary pattern to achieve healthy dietary patterns. Rather, individuals can combine foods in a variety of flexible ways to achieve healthy dietary patterns, and these strategies should be tailored to meet the individual’s health needs, dietary preferences and cultural traditions.

HALLELUJAH!  Finally.  We have confirmation of what I've said for a long time: everything can and does work.  As long as the diet you choose to follow is low on added sugar, high on fruits and vegetables (not just blueberries on your cereal), and you don't smoke, you're probably going to be just fine.  Pick a route and follow it.

Important distinctions: cut the added, but have the natural sugar

Important distinctions: cut the added, but have the natural sugar

Before I end, I'd just like to point out that the field of nutrition often gets trashed because it's rarely ever a "clean" science.  In fact, I don't know of another field where so many "experts" are people without a formal education.  There is a ton of variability out there, and it's next to impossible to have a randomized controlled trial (the gold star of science research) where thousands of people's food intake can be monitored for years.  Nutrition is a lot more reliant on observations and correlational data, but that doesn't mean it's less scientific.

Many of us are quick to cast off the nutrition world as ever-changing and constantly flip flopping.  But, Dariush Mozzafarian, the dean of Tufts' School of Nutrition, has had an interesting analogy that I'd like to share about nutrition science.  If you were planning a trip to the moon (or trying to lose weight), you're going to use the latest and current science to get you there.  You're not going to want to go in a spaceship (or diet philosophy) using technology that's a few decades old. Instead, we want the best science we have right now....even if it may be similar to before.

So.  Plant-based diet. Less red meat. Cut the added sugar. And eat some egg yolks.  Quality food in sensible portions is our rocketship. Now let's get to the moon!