The American diet has long been called the SAD diet
by dietitians, nutritionists and most other nutrition professionals. Not only because it stands for Standard American Diet but because it is, truly, sad.
Last week I wrote about a seminal study
from Stanford University, which provided continued evidence that when it comes to weight loss, high-fat and high-carbohydrate diets fare the same when they have the same amount of protein and calories, and consist of real, whole, healthy food choices. As I outlined all of the findings of the study besides the weight loss, it became apparent that evidence also points to the lower-fat diet being healthier because of the higher fiber content of the diet and lower LDL blood values that the participants ended up with.
But there is still much confusion about which diet is best, mainly due to the influence of popular media and pop-culture.
Popular proponents of the high-fat fad argue that:
We’ve been prescribing high carb diets for the last 50 years, and the American population is obese and diabetic and getting worse. It makes sense that we have to do something different.
More specifically, they argue that the diet which nutritionists, professors and government agencies have been recommending isn’t working. So, we should swing in the opposite direction and instead of eating 50-60 percent of our calories from carbohydrates, we should be eating 50-90 percent of our calories from fat.
My reply to that argument is twofold:
1. While it’s true
that the majority of the nutrition science professionals still recommend 50-60 percent of calories in a diet come from carbohydrate, it’s a simplified version of the truth.
- Carbohydrates are not only sugar, pizza, white bread, pretzels, French fries, and potato chips, even though they are the kind Americans eat most. Carbohydrates include all of the healthy, fiber-filled, nutrient-filled, antioxidant-filled plant foods—from aincient grains to fruit, vegetables and legumes. It’s recommended that these fibrous, nutrient-dense substances make up the majority of your carbs.
- Whole grain doesn’t only mean whole grain bread (even some of which is healthier than others) it means the entire gamut of grains in their grain form.
- Finally, it’s impossible to eliminate carbs and get all the nutrients your body needs for optimal health and energy if you limit yourself to only eating meat and fat.
2. The American population hasn’t been eating according to the USDA guidelines.
If we were all eating according to the recommendations and still trending toward higher levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, that would certainly prove the guidelines wrong. But, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines committee statement said it best:
- The US population, on the whole, does not meet recommendations for vegetables, fruit, dairy, or whole grains, and hasn’t done so for years.
- We eat too much sodium and saturated fat, refined grains, solid fats, and added sugar.
- We don’t get enough vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin C, folate, iron, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and potassium (all nutrients we obtain from food in the first bullet above).
The vast majority of evidence points to those who eat more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains (as defined above) reduce their risk for preventable disease and live a healthier, longer and stronger life.
But the ultimate issue isn’t really about low- or high-fat diets.
The issue is that we as Americans need to eat more real, whole foods and more fruit and vegetables and cut down on processed food. And we need to eat less sugar which, over the past 30 years, American adults’ consumption increased by more than 30 percent, the equivalent to eating an additional 15 pounds of sugar per year.1
As Americans we need to stop asking “which diet is better?” And, we need to stop looking for excuses to continue eating junk.
From my experience working with people
in the nutrition, exercise and health arena in the last 20 years, it’s not about the whole grains, or the corn on the cob, or even the bananas.
It’s because most people are eating some form of “cake” for breakfast (processed flour with heaps of sugar) with a high calorie coffee, a salad (or nothing) for lunch with another high sugar drink, and then for dinner take-out pizza, Chinese food, or a frozen meal. On the weekend, there’s more variety, mostly in terms of chips, pizza, wings, more desserts, and more alcohol.
The problem is not fruit and vegetables, nor the ancient grains, it’s the junk.
We need to start to get it right
on how to make healthy choices and eat whole, real foods instead of focusing on one macronutrient being “in or out” of vogue. If we don’t get this right, in ten or twenty years we’ll have a whole other health problem on our hands because the pendulum will have swung from high-sugar, to high-fat diets, mostly made of junk food.
I’ve seen that moderation and healthy choices in every food group wins every time. People like it when they can be in any country, at any table, and can successfully choose healthy if they know how to do so and practice it regularly.
I try to remain as unbiased as possible because it helps me to help others.
I consistently read about all diets and all nutrition. I have nothing to gain by sticking my head in the sand and ignoring evidence pointing to a diet that leads to a better life and better health.
I strive to be at the top of my game as well.
If I saw strong evidence that eating more high-fat foods would help me be and do more than what I am now, I would start to make changes. But, I’ve been at my ideal weight for at least the last 15 years. I’m more fit now than I was in my 20’s. I also run my own business (it takes 10 hour days, 6 days per week), and my brain works optimally through it all. All this comes from practicing what I preach.
Interestingly, as I was writing this article,
an excellent post was brought to my attention regarding the 7th International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition (ICVN). If you’d like to see more about this current topic addressed by some well-known experts, scientists, and educators in the field of nutrition, check out this supporting article here.
Post in the comments below if you’d like to weigh in.
PS—My nutrition course is coming out again this spring. It’s where I lead a group through small steps in making healthier choices and creating better habits in nutrition. If you’re interested, get on the mailing list today.
Cimons, Marlene. Eating Too Much Sugar Can Hurt Your Health, and for Some It’s Actually Addictive. 16 Dec. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/eating-too-much-sugar-can-hurt-your-health-and-for-some-its-actually-addictive/2017/12/15/3853d3e8-de8b-11e7-bbd0-9dfb2e37492a_story.html. Accessed 16 Mar. 2018.
- Is saturated fat really ‘back?’ In short, no, argue experts at ICVN 2018. (2018, March 01). Retrieved March 16, 2018, from https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2018/03/01/Is-fat-especially-saturated-fat-really-back-In-short-no-argue-nutrition-scientists#
- Eltagouri, M. (2017, November 22). Report claims sugar industry hid connection to heart disease for decades. Retrieved March 16, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/11/22/report-claims-sugar-industry-hid-connection-to-heart-disease-for-decades/?utm_term=.dca9bb4cdd86
- Gabel, L. (2018, March 12). If Low-Fat V.S. Low-Carb Diet Doesn’t Matter for Weight Loss, What Does? Retrieved March 16, 2018, from https://lucifit.com/low-fat-v-s-low-carb-diet-doesnt-matter-weight-loss-what-does/