June 1, 2000
Editor's note: Jerry Wilson is a resident of Edinburgh and a frequent contributor to the Daily Journal Opinion page.
The USDA has just issued its latest list of dietary guidelines.
Compared to the older guidelines, issued five years ago, the new version does not malign fat as much, and it is slightly more critical of sweets, but it does not go far enough in identifying the real villain in the fight against obesity — sugar.
Candy, cookies, donuts, soda pop, pastries — they all are mouth watering, and they bring an almost ecstatic sense of taste pleasure to many Americans. Unfortunately, the ingredient that makes these foods so pleasurable is the same ingredient that is responsible for the proliferation of obesity in this country.
In a seemingly cruel and sadistic ploy, nature has addicted many of us to a food product that is our worst dietary enemy. Sugar is the direct cause of obesity, high serum cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure in some people.
According to government reports, 18 percent of Americans are obese.
This compares to a 12 percent obesity rate only 10 years ago.
The irony is that over the same 10 years, Americans have generally followed the guidelines issued by the USDA and the American Diabetic Association stressing a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.
It seems as though a low-fat diet actually causes obesity, when the fat is replaced with sugars and starches.
The USDA originally planned to put out a new guideline advising Americans to restrict their consumption of sugar. But, thanks to lobbying from the sugar industry, the recommendation was toned down significantly.
“That’s a big defeat for health advocates who are fighting poor nutrition and obesity,” said Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
And it’s a big defeat for overweight Americans, most of whom will remain overweight unless they severely limit not only their consumption of sugar, but also their consumption of all high-starch products like refined flour and potatoes.
Dr. Merrill Wesemann, a Franklin physician, agrees that refined sugar and flour products are the real problem, but not just for the obese.
“Eating refined carbohydrates is not good for anybody —period,” he said. “Yet that is what the modern American diet mainly consists of, and that is why obesity is on the rise.”
Many health experts are beginning to understand that sugar and starches, not fat, are the real culprits in the onset of obesity and type-2 diabetes. Research indicates that excess sugar is converted to stored fat by the body more readily than excess dietary fat. Extra sugar also tends to increase cholesterol.
Here are the 10 new dietary guidelines issued this week by the USDA, followed by a critique of each:
“Aim for a healthy weight.” That is a good one, but easier said than done.
- “Become physically active each day.” Thirty minutes per day of light exercise should be the minimum goal for anyone.
- “Let the Food Pyramid guide your food choices.” This might be good advice for those Americans who are not overweight and who do not have high cholesterol or hypertension. But if you have any of those conditions, or have a family history of them, the food pyramid recommends far too many high-carbohydrate foods.
- “Eat a variety of grains daily, especially whole grains.” In fact, change “especially whole grains” to “ONLY whole grains.” Highly processed grain products are a type of slow poison, particularly to those who are obese or have diabetes.
- “Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables daily.” Vegetables are fine, but eat fruits only in moderation, since most are high in sugar.
- “Keep food safe to eat.” This is a no-brainer.
- “Choose beverages and foods that moderate sugar consumption.” Change the word “moderate” to the phrase “severely restrict” to make this recommendation valid.
- “Choose and prepare foods with less salt.” This is standard advice, but more recent studies have shown that salt has little effect on your blood pressure.
- “If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.” This is a good one.
- “Choose a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and moderate in total fat.” At least they are now recommending eating a “moderate” amount of fat, rather than low fat. Saturated fats should be eaten in moderation, but mono- and polyunsaturated fats may be consumed in greater quantities with no adverse effects as long as you strictly limit your intake of sugar and starch.
In addition, dietary cholesterol will not adversely affect your serum cholesterol. So go ahead and eat those scrambled eggs cooked in butter or olive oil. Just leave out the toast.
Your body recognizes only one kind of carbohydrate as food —sugar.
Almost all carbohydrates, whether complex or simple, will eventually turn into sugar in the body. So, when you eat your next baked potato, you might as well scrape out all the potato and fill the skin with sugar. As far as your body is concerned, that’s what you’re eating anyway.