It’s a crazy statement, right? Do we really need to be told what to eat in order to feel healthy and vibrant? Our ancestors, barring dietary variations based on religion, climate and food preparation, ate real food. But most of us have gotten so far away from how our ancestors ate. One only needs to go back two or three generations to see this. We have become addicted to sugar, soda, fast food, and other convenience foods that we have since forgotten what foods are truly nourishing and will give us the energy and vitality that real food is meant to provide.
Just eat real food should be considered common sense. But it’s not so common because many of us fall prey to a combination of misleading messages from the food industry, media reports and by our own government.
This January, the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture updated their jointly-issued Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Guidelines are updated every five years and are based on current scientific knowledge about how dietary intake can reduce risk for major chronic diseases. They provide recommendations on what foods Americans should and should not consume.
The average American may not think about the US Dietary Guidelines too much, but they generally make their way into our collective conscious. They also factor heavily in school lunches, hospital meals, the military, prisons and programs for women, children and the elderly. The Guidelines actually affect a large number of Americans. We also export our way of eating to billions of people around the world.
The Guidelines were first issued in 1980, which is when the US Government officially recommended that all Americans eat a diet low in fat. What ensued was not a run on the local grocery store for lettuce, lentils and lean meats but, rather, there was a dramatic increase in the production – and consumption – of highly-processed foods that were labelled as “low fat”. Without fat, sugar had to be added to make the food tasty. But, unlike healthy fat, processed foods made from flour and sugar don’t keep you feeling full for long. So Americans started to eat more. It was this double whammy that has many believing spawned the nation’s obesity epidemic.
While the new Guidelines do not take into account all of the recommendations made by the Advisory Panel, they have made important strides by making two new recommendations: Americans should reduce their sugar and meat consumption. Sugar is an obvious one. Meat, perhaps not so. Americans eat a lot of meat. What most people do not know, however, is that unused protein in the body turns to sugar. In addition, the meat from grain-fed animals has higher levels Omega 6 fat. Animals on a grass-fed diet turn the grass they eat into Omega 3 fat which is then stored in the flesh that we eat. The average American has too much Omega 6 in their body (which can be pro-inflammatory) and not enough Omega 3 (which is anti-inflammatory).
So, what is my advice? I believe that Michael Pollan advises us best when he says, “Eat [real] food, not too much, mostly plants.”