Live Well
politicization-of-the-dietary-guidelines
February 2016

The Politicization of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

In December 2015, the US Department of Health Services and the US Department of Agriculture released the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for 2015-2020 (see the full report HERE). I read the guidelines and wanted to share my thoughts with you. Overall, I applaud the government’s recognition that something needs to be done about the health and nutrition of Americans. Also, the acknowledgement that nutrition and health go hand in hand is very important. On the other hand, I think that, in many ways, the report does not go far enough in its recommendations.

In the introduction, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that “A history of poor eating and physical activity patterns have a cumulative effect and have contributed to significant nutrition- and physical activity-related health challenges that now face the U.S. population.” According to the report, roughly 117 million adults suffer from diseases related to poor eating habits, and roughly 156 million adults are overweight or obese. And this doesn’t even include the children and young adults who are overweight or obese, and suffer from nutrition-related chronic diseases. There is a clear recognition that something is awry and that food has played a big role in leading us down this route. At the same time, there is the acknowledgement that food can play a big role in improving the situation.

The key points of the report are the following (see Chapter 1 of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans HERE):

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan.
  • Focus on variety, nutrient density and amount.
  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce our sodium intake.
  • Shift to healthier food and beverage choices.
  • Support healthy eating patterns for all.

These points all seem pretty self-explanatory and make a lot of sense. However, they are more telling in what they don’t say than in what they do say. The report refers to “nutrient-dense” foods, which are defined as foods rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, “and other substances that have positive health effects.” What are these foods specifically? I am quite certain that large food companies will become very adept at finding ways in which processed foods can be considered “nutrient-dense.” Also, presumably, intake of “saturated fats” refers to intake of meat (though this is never clearly stated in the report). Again, what kind of meat, specifically? What about where the meat is sourced from? Surely, it is as crucial to avoid meat that is given lots of hormones and antibiotics as antibiotic resistance has become a big health problem as well. Overall, while the identification that a healthy diet is crucial to good health is important, the report leaves too many openings for large food companies – especially producers of processed foods or foods high in sugar – to find ways to make their products fall within the parameters of what are considered healthy foods.

This is when you realize that the government seems to be at the behest of large and powerful food lobbies. And, while the government wants change to happen, it refuses to hold the food companies responsible for selling us unhealthy foods accountable. It’s truly a shame that public health comes at the expense of the wealth of large food producers and companies.

Here are my five dietary guidelines for good health:

  • Eat whole, real foods.
  • Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, organic whenever possible.
  • Limit your intake of meat, poultry and fish. And, when eating meat or poultry, ensure that it comes from high quality sustainable sources that do not use hormones and/or antibiotics. Similarly, consume fish that has been sourced in a sustainable manner, and that is low in Mercury.
  • Limit (or avoid altogether) your intake of processed foods and sugars, especially sodas.
  • Support healthy eating patterns for all by supporting local farms, sustainable farming and food production.

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Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain—For Life

by David Permutter, MD with Kristin Loberg

You may recall that last year I wrote about the increasing recognition of the importance of gut health on overall health (check out my blog post from September 2015). You may recall, also, that 80% of our immune system resides in our gut too, so, naturally, the health of our gut is paramount to ensuring our well-being. The balance of good and bad bacteria in our bodies also helps regulate our bodies’ inflammatory responses, and, rampant, chronic, inflammation is a big factor in many modern diseases. I recently read an interesting book called Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain—For Life by David Perlmutter, MD with Kristin Loberg which discusses the importance of gut bacteria on brain health.

Perlmutter, who is a neurologist, argues that the main causes of brain diseases and deterioration are chronic inflammation and the effect of free radical. Furthermore, because gut health plays such a big role in regulating our bodies’ inflammatory response and preventing oxidation of our cells (due to the effect of free radicals), it only makes sense that gut health and the balance of good and bad bacteria in your intestine can affect the health of the brain. This may lead to diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s (now considered Type 3 Diabetes), depression, stress and anxiety, autism, ADHD, among others. Perlmutter writes: “The gut, after all, is the origin of inflammation given the complex interplay between its microbial inhabitants and the immune system. So, inflammatory processes regulated by gut bacteria and resulting in inflammatory molecules coursing through the bloodstream – reaching cells and tissues – will assault the mitochondria…Disorders as diverse as diabetes, autism and Alzheimer’s have all been linked to mitochondrial dysfunction.” (Brain Maker, p.66).

Proper nutrition plays a critical role in feeding your good bacteria. Let me remind you of a few other things you can do to support the good bacteria is your gut:

  • Eat or drink foods with lots of good bacteria in them, such as: sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir milk, pickles, kombucha, miso and tempeh. These will build up the good bacteria in your gut.
  • Put down the sanitizers (and use soap and water). Don’t over-sanitize everything – it’s okay (and even probably good) to get a little dirty. Also, avoid over-using antibiotics.
  • Stay away from sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods. They create too much acid in our stomachs, which kills off any beneficial bacteria.
  • Eat foods rich in fiber. Fiber helps feed your good bacteria…and it helps you feel full.
  • Perlmutter also notes the importance of avoiding gluten, genetically-modified foods and foods high in pesticides because these have adverse effects on our gut microbiome.