Last month I told you why I think it’s very hard to take the USDA dietary guidelines very seriously. In fact, I think the whole notion of looking to the government for guidelines on eating is ludicrous. Here’s why:
The USDA (which publishes the dietary guidelines) has two mandates, and those two mandates are in direct opposition.
On the one hand, the USDA is charged with providing Americans with good, objective information on health and eating. On the other hand it’s also charged with promoting US agriculture and increasing the demand for its products.
The government recommendations are suspect simply because there’s a built-in conflict of interest. (Would you trust the tobacco industry to write guidelines on smoking?) The USDA will never tell us to eat less of the very foods they’re supposed to promote—– corn, wheat, soy and sugar, and therein lies the rub. In addition, the guidelines are strongly influenced by the massive lobbying efforts of industries whose bottom line are deeply affected by those guidelines—Big Food, the dairy industry and the meat industry. Even though the “system” is rigged, we can still look at the results and see what they got right, and what they got wrong.
One of the main things the system continue to get wrong is fat.
The dietary guidelines—as well as the “conventional” wisdom—warns us against saturated fat, telling us to consume as little as possible while at the same time encouraging us to consume lots of plant based fats like corn oil. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.
We now know from at least two major meta-analyses published in serious, peer-reviewed journals like the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the Annals of Internal Medicine, that saturated fat does not cause heart disease.
Let me repeat that, since it goes against everything you and I have been taught for the past fifty years or so.
Saturated fat does not cause heart disease. It also does not “clog your arteries”.
While it may raise cholesterol, when you look under the hood you find that it actually raises LDL-a cholesterol (harmless) while lowering LDL-b cholesterol (not harmless). It also raises HDL cholesterol (which is generally a good thing). So the notion that you have to avoid saturated fat to prevent heart attacks is just… well, wrong.
Equally wrong is the notion that you should consume as much vegetable fat as possible. Vegetable oils are loaded with omega-6 fats, just as fish oil (and flax) are loaded with omega-3’s. You actually need both, but we need them to be in the right proportion (ideally somewhere between 1:1 and 4:1). The omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory while the omega-3s are anti-inflammatory. When they’re wildly out of proportion, you’re setting yourself up for inflammation, the major promoter of every degenerative disease we know of. Corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, safflower oil, and all the rest of the high omega-6 oils are found in every processed food in the grocery store. As a result, we now consume 16 times more omega-6 than omega-3. No wonder we’re walking inflammation factories!
In our new book, “Smart Fat”, Dr. Steven Masley and I argue that the most important thing to know about fat is whether or not it’s toxic!
When you raise cattle on huge factory farms, feeding them pesticide-sprayed grain, shooting them up with antibiotics, steroids and hormones, then yes, their fat is indeed toxic. But it’s not toxic because it’s saturated, it’s toxic because it’s been contaminated!
When cattle are raised on their natural diet of pasture—i.e. “grass-fed” beef—it’s a whole different story. The fat from grass-fed beef is perfectly fine and not toxic at all.
As long as the guidelines continue to communicate the notion that all animal fats are bad and all “vegetable” fats are good, the guidelines will continue to be woefully out of date. Worse, they will continue to promote over-consumption of the very foods we should be cutting back on (like vegetable oil and processed carbs) while promoting under-consumption of perfectly healthy (or, at the very least, neutral) fats like the fat from grass-fed beef, coconut oil and Malaysian palm oil.
There’s at least one thing the dietary guidelines got right, though.
We should eat a lot of vegetables and fruits.
But we didn’t need the US government to tell us that. We could have just asked our grandmothers.
By Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS aka “The Nutrition Myth Buster”™
Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, also known as “The Nutrition Myth Buster” ™ is a nationally known board-certified nutritionist and expert on diet and weight loss. He has appeared on the Dr. Oz Show, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS and has contributed to articles in The New York Times, Forbes, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, Vanity Fair Online, Men’s Heath, Prevention, and dozens of other print and online publications. He is the best-selling author of 15 books, including The Great Cholesterol Myth (co-authored with Stephen Sinatra, MD). His latest, co-authored with Steven Masley, MD, is Smart Fat: Eat More Fat, Lose More Weight, Get Healthy Now! (Harper One, 2016)