In all of my presentations, I like to address where we are as a nation. More specifically, the Standard American Diet (SAD) reality. The reality is that two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese and childhood obesity has tripled over the past 30 years despite the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) attempt to create a food pyramid used to generate a sense of healthy eating. Our agricultural system has spawned a food system that promotes cheap food that lacks nutrients and is full of ingredients that have caused obesity rates to rise rapidly. Many American’s think they’re eating healthy because they’re following this pyramid, most people probably are not aware of that there is no link between agricultural subsidies and nutrition.
The original food pyramid created in 1992 said that the “base” of your diet should be comprised of grains, pasta, cereals, rice and breads. The very top of the pyramid was fats and sugar, and while sugar clearly belongs there, healthy fats do not. There is considerable evidence that grains, which break down into sugar in your body, promote fat buildup and drive insulin resistance and related diseases. Sounds like the exact opposite of what our bodies need. These guidelines are very much reflected by agricultural subsidies, not on real or respectable nutritional science. Therefore, the biggest reason you’re directed to make grains the base of your diet is because that’s what farmers are making money off of here in the United States. It’s plentiful and affordable compared to healthier foods, which aren’t provided with the same abundance of subsidies.
Where’s the Money Going?
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), between 1995 and 2010, a mere 10 percent of American farmers collected 74% of all subsidies, amounting to nearly $166 billion over 16 years. These farm subsidies bring you high-fructose corn syrup, fast food, animal factories, monoculture, and a large army of other contributors to our unhealthy SAD reality. Obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular rates are higher than they have ever been and are directly related to changes in how our food has been grown and produced.
In a recent interview with Michael Pollan, he notes that according to USDA data, 92 cents of each food dollar goes to someone other than the farmer. Therefore, it’s actually going to multiple manufacturing and packaging processes associated with processes food. Unless we, as a nation, start buying directly from farmers and local sources, we are going to be hard pressed to change the food system.
In fact, most people would benefit from getting anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of their total calories from healthy fats!
USDA Guidelines Are Not the Recipe For Optimal Health
In 2011, the original food pyramid designed by the USDA was replaced with “MyPlate.” Vegetables are now the largest portion of the “plate,” but grains are still ranked high. The biggest missing piece of the plate is fats. MyPlate has nearly eliminated all fats from its recommendations – even dairy is recommended to be fat-free or low-fat. Healthy oils and nuts are not even mentioned! This is a huge problem! Fat – good fat – seems to be the number one missing nutrient in the American diet. One of the most vital healthy fats is animal-based omega-3, but you won’t find it anywhere on MyPlate. Serious mental and physical health problems, as well as premature deaths have been linked to deficiency in this essential fat.
Despite the increasing data, the US government still has not recognized saturated fat as a healthy, nutritious, and all-natural fat. It provides the necessary building blocks for your cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone like substances that are critical to your health. When you eat fats as part of your meal, they also slow down absorption, which keeps you satisfied longer. Also, they are transporters for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Nutrition Based on Science, Not Agricultural Subsidies
The way you SHOULD eat, is almost as easy as telling you to flip the original USDA pyramid on its top. Healthy fats and vegetables should be the base of your diet. Healthy fats such as avocados, coconut oil, and nuts can be beneficial and should make up at least 50% of your daily calories. Vegetables provide an abundance of vital nutrients, while sparing the calories and should always be the most prominent part of your plate. High quality proteins should be the next on the pyramid, followed by a moderate amount of fruits. Grains and sugars should be at the top and should eventually be nearly eliminated.
Make an Impact – For You and For America
So now that you know that agricultural subsidies are based on economics, which have produced dietary recommendations that are also based on industry profitability, not nutritional science, it should become easier to understand why Americans are in an obesity crisis.
I cannot stress how important it is to support local farmers and local businesses that support healthy living. Supporting local agriculture will not only help improve your health, it will also help improve the environment and your community. Your dollars are votes and it is important to understand the impact you have when you spend your money on processed food versus local farmers. You can start making your impact by shopping at your local farmer’s market. Visit localharvest.org to find the nearest farmer’s market in your area. Also, be on the lookout for our 4-week challenge that will help you to make a huge impact. Together, we can all make a difference. I live my life by a quote by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”