Saturday, August 23, 2014

What to Eat (a brief review) and The Food Pyramid of 1992 - How it Probably F*cked Up My Life

Very deep title there, eh?  Not my usual stuff.

Well the vacation went fairly well.  We didn't sleep that much (it's hard to get the little guy to sleep in a hotel room).  We had fun at Legoland, the Water Park at Legoland, Manhattan Beach, and the California Science Center (got to see the Space Shuttle Endeavor).

Vacation, to me, has always meant reading books.  I love to read.  So does my husband (our dating life was dinner out and then a bookstore, almost every week).  So I took three books with me on the trip (I was reading four at once).  This time around, they were all non-fiction:

Simple Food for the Good Life - Helen Nearing
Death by Food Pyramid - Denise Minger
What to Eat - Luise Light

I bought Death by Food Pyramid on my Kindle, and was in the early stages of it when she mentioned What to Eat.  So I decided to order What to Eat on Amazon (used, for $1.00, plus shipping).

That book was eye-opening, to say the least. She has 10 simple rules for how to eat healthy.  They make so much sense!  And they would have been really helpful in 2006 (when the book came out).

The single biggest thing that I got out of this whole book is this: Luise Light was the nutritionist in charge of creating the USDA Food Pyramid in the late 1980s.  She had a team of experts collecting data, reading the literature, studying results of tests comparing dietary factors and disease.  She was very proud to submit her recommendations to the USDA.

And then...what came back bore little resemblance to her pyramid.  So the experts did their due diligence, made their recommendations, and politics changed the food pyramid in response to industry pressures.

I am so disillusioned.  Why, you ask?  Well.  The Food Pyramid came out when I was in my early 20's.  It's been a HUGE part of my life - HUGE as I've been interested in health and fitness.  And I have struggled with my weight. I have lost weight on Weight Watchers and by using a variety of other plans.  Most of which were based on the food pyramid.  Every dietitian I have worked with, or have read, discusses the food pyramid (low fat/ high carb).  Lots of whole grains, low-fat cheese, skim milk, you get the picture.

In the last year or so, I've found alternative eating plans that have called for a major reduction in carbs.  (For example: Primal Blueprint, 21-day fix).  And while I followed them, or tried to, in the back of my mind I always thought "but 2-3 servings of carbs a day is NOT sustainable, the Food Pyramid/ USDA recommends 6!  Eating vegetarian/ high carb is better for the planet, better for your health."

And it was all a LIE!  The original food pyramid submitted to the USDA?  2-4 servings of WHOLE GRAINS per day.  TWO (for most women, more for men and teenagers). In addition, the dairy recommendation was only 1-2 servings.  Is it any wonder that I have a problem losing and maintaining weight?  All of those people who eat "low carb" were pretty much right.  I thought it was a fad - but really 2 servings of grain a day is a LOT closer to the Paleo/ Primal/ Low carb lifestyle than it is to the USDA recommendations of SIX servings.

So for fun, I went to the USDA website CHOOSE MY PLATE and put in my age, sex, and weight and said "I want to lose weight".  It recommended a reasonable 1500 calories per day.  Commercial programs recommend 1200 to 1400.  It also recommended SIX servings of grain, THREE servings of dairy, etc.  I decided to use the Supertracker to simulate a basic day's eating plan based on their minimum recommendations.  What did I get?  2000 calories!  Despite their recommendation of 1500 calories a day, if I eat six grains, three dairy servings, etc., I end up with almost 2000 calories.  Is it any wonder I am fat?

So I played around with Supertracker and here is what I found:

Using the USDA recommendations 1951 calories - probably won't make me fat, but no wiggle room for anything extra.


Cutting grains down to 2-3 servings per day 1707 calories.  Still probably not enough for weight loss.


Cutting grains down to 2-3 servings and dairy down to 1 to 2, 1458 calories.


And here was my actual intake for this particular day, 1455 calories.

So right now, this very moment, I am in mourning for my grains.  I am trying to come to terms with 2 servings a day.  At least Luise Light is a little bit easier than the 21 Day Fix.  21DF lumps beans/ legumes/ peas and potatoes in with carbohydrates.  Luise Light allows for potatoes as a vegetable and beans as a vegetable or a protein.

How do you adjust?  No more sandwiches!  I mean, a single sandwich is both  my grain servings for that day.  What about a burrito?  Yep, a burrito with rice would put me over.  And pizza!  Well, I guess pizza is an occasional food anyway. What is guacamole without chips?  Bruschetta without the bread? I've been trying to focus on what I SHOULD eat, not what I SHOULDN'T eat.  It's going to be a challenge, that's all I can say.  And from a "frugal cooking" standpoint, even more so.  Grains are cheap.

Even now, when I google "How Much Grain Should I Eat?" the first many many pages are based on the USDA recommendations. :(

How much grain do you eat?

15 comments:

Amy B said...

Thank you for this post. It pretty much parallels my own history of trying to eat healthily....only, I ended up getting diagnosed with Type Two diabetes after a lifetime eating "healthy" grains!
Now I HAVE to restrict carbs, to keep my blood sugar down, and, would you believe, the nutritionist I saw when I was diagnosed was STILL telling me I have "room" in my diet for a whole wheat muffin, some pasta and small amounts of potatoe - but, the blood sugar meter doesn't lie, and it says those foods make my sugar go up! I am struggling to find an affordable way to ear that will keep my energy up and blood sugar down. And, of course, I need to lose weight. I am a work in progress. I wish I could figure this out.

Marcia said...

It's really a tough one. To think that by listening to the "experts" and the government we've made ourselves sicker.

Biz said...

Wow, that is an eye opener! I don't think I could get away with 2 grains per day - even though I am diabetic, carbs are an important part of your diet - my RD doesn't want me to eat below 150 per day - and is fine with it being up to 200 carbs a day.

Luckily, I can take insulin - but I always pair my carbs with a protein so the sugar doesn't spike.

Very interesting! Don't you wish we could both be just 128 pounds and just maintain that on how we eat today?!

Hugs!

Marcia said...

You know, Biz, I wrote down everything that I ate on a 2-grain day. And I ate over 150 carbs. Something like 173 I think.

If you eat fruit, vegetables, yogurt, beans - only two grains will get you to 150 to 200 per day.

It's not carbs that are the problem, it's grains.

Linda Firth said...

I have to say, I find six servings of grain per day excessive, but not sure 2 is realistic for me - in a typical day I usually have breakfast cereal, oat based biscuits & 2 slices of brown bread.

Having said that, I'm not sure I believe the hype about the negative effect of grains. I understand the intolerance aspect, but in terms of weight gain, I still think they provide us with plenty of important nutrients for the calories.

You have inspired me to do a bit more research about this issue though.

Thanks for the article.

Mark said...

I think you are looking at the issue with a mono-perspective. A more holistic approach needs to take in exercise, daily activities (taking stairs, walk when ever possible), how much time you spend in front of screens, your stage in life, medications you may be taking, etc. Trying to change your body weight by altering only diet is a rough task. Heck you can run a marathon on the caloric value of a couple of cookies.

I feel fortunate during the last 50+ years I never had to struggle with my weight (same waist line in 1983). But then again I have exercised nearly daily for the last 30 years. For diet I have followed the old school. Limited meat (lean), carbo's that are high in fiber limited sugar, limited dairy, and lots of greens. Same advice I got 30 years ago when I took Nutrition in college.
Don't expect changes over night or even over months. It probably took years to get to your unhappy self and it will take nearly as long to get where you should be.

Joanne said...

And this is why you can't trust anything the government says about nutrition...it's all funded by various industries!

Anonymous said...

I'm right at the pre-diabetic stage with my ac1 and have been carb heavy most of my life (sweet tooth) so I'm working on tweaking my eating - luckily thanks to flunking weight watchers enough times i"ve developed some habits I think are good - adding in veggies and eating breakfast - just reading your blog so not sure how I'm gonna do with 2 carbs - well I already know that wont' fly with me LOL! but every little bit helps right? trying to add in more beans and lean proteins
Susanna

Anonymous said...

I'm right at the pre-diabetic stage with my ac1 and have been carb heavy most of my life (sweet tooth) so I'm working on tweaking my eating - luckily thanks to flunking weight watchers enough times i"ve developed some habits I think are good - adding in veggies and eating breakfast - just reading your blog so not sure how I'm gonna do with 2 carbs - well I already know that wont' fly with me LOL! but every little bit helps right? trying to add in more beans and lean proteins
Susanna

Marcia said...

Hey Mark, I see your point but it really depends on the person. Right now, I'm at the point where I am trying to lose the last 20 lbs of my second-baby weight (he's just two).

With my first, I lost it with weight watchers and exercise. You know, I've noticed over the last 5 years (I'm 44) that I cannot exercise my way out of a bad diet. 5 years ago, I could maintain my weight on six grains a day with a lot of exercise. 5 years ago I was training for and running half marathons.

As the years go on, even a "good" high grain diet doesn't work. For sure, some of it is exercise. Unfortunately, all that running caused injury - first piriformis in my hip, then achilles tendonitis and then a sprained knee. I am coming to terms with the fact that I may never run again.

I still exercise - but I walk, swim, occasionally bike (though not to work anymore - not enough time), lift weights, do workout DVDs at home. But there's the problem. I cannot do any high impact work and I only have about 20-30 minutes in the morning and a short lunch break. I simply cannot BURN the calories that are required to eat more grains.

The recommendation put forth by Luise Light was for weight control for the typical adult woman. With a full time job and two young kids, I'd say I'm typical. I don't have much time to exercise. I squeeze it in when I can (daily), but 30 minutes of walking is sometimes it.

I am now recalling the advice of two of my older friends. They were in their 60's at the time, stayed trim, and they basically said that after 40 they had to reduce their grains to 2 servings a day.

I don't think grains are bad at all. I love them, and think they are part of a healthy diet. However, simply from a weight control standpoint, I cannot eat many of them. Given a choice between 1/2 cup of brown rice or 1/2 cup of black beans with my dinner? I'll take the black beans.

Rhonda said...

Hello! Thanks for sharing, I appreciate your post. I also have concerns with the food pyramids that are government approved in both Canada and the US. I think the food industry lobbying has pressured changes to known nutritionally sound recommendations. Similar to the pharmaceutical industry, but less publicly observed than that industry these last 15 or so years. This has created profit driven recommendations that are not in the best interests of our society and each of us individually. Harvard and Mayo clinic both have more evidence based eating plans. I would like to see them be considered in governmental nutritional planning going forward. But even with their eating plans/pyramids I still intuitvely believe vegetables should play a larger role and we need to be more mindful of our protein and whole grain sources. I haven't spent much time thinking about my changing needs around grains, but I am reaching my mid forties and I think you have laid down a valid point. There is a drastic difference between a 25 year old me and a 43 year old me in how I process nutrients and calories. Thanks for the 'food' for thought.
Rhonda

Daniel said...

I thought this was an excellent post Marcia, and I had a few thoughts to share.

I guess for one thing, people (and governments!) make mistakes. I'm actually working on a post about various myths we've debunked about our diets (Six servings of healthy whole grains! is one of many), and it really makes you wonder what things we think are true NOW that we just haven't debunked yet.

Also there's often a process of consensus-building that makes some domains appear like the answers are "decided" when they're not. The science on diet (and many other domains: climate change, how to manage the economy, etc) may seem decided for a while, and even after there's a change in thinking, the overall consensus still adjusts very slowly.

I think this is what we're seeing with the food pyramid: it's not an appropriate mix of dietary input and it contains too many carbs. Now, finally, more and more people are waking up to this.

Dan @ Casual Kitchen

Anonymous said...

Yeah, grains are bad, especially wheat. Check the glycemic index. It spikes your insulin multiple times per day, with cereal for breakfast (or muffin or pancakes) then two slices of bread (sandwich) for lunch, maybe plain crackers for a snack, and spaghetti with garlic toast for supper. Our bodies read that as sugar, goes right to visceral fat.

Do not eat Special K "with protein," eat an egg. With ham or bacon or sausages. Fat does not make you fat, wheat does.

Anonymous said...

"Don't expect changes over night or even over months. It probably took years to get to your unhappy self and it will take nearly as long to get where you should be."

Nope. Wrong-o. Two months off wheat and sugar, many pounds and inches lost. And I was never unhappy.

I would change your advice, Mark, from "Limited meat (lean), carbo's that are high in fiber limited sugar, limited dairy, and lots of greens" to lots of fat (no lean), next to no carbs and lots of berries with Double-Devon cream.

Marcia said...

Plus it didn't take years to get here. It took exactly nine months.