Food Pyramid – Low Carb vs Low Fat

Through the past so many years, the Food Guide Pyramid (which I’ll refer to as “FGP” from here on) has been a go-to dieting and nutrition staple highly promoted by the USDA and US government.

The Original Food Guide Pyramid

The Original Food Guide Pyramid

It is on virtually every box of cereal as well as many other foods, and has been used as a reference over and over.

The focus on determining needs in basic food groups started around the 1950s-1960s with the creation of the USDA’s original FGP in 1992.

The original FGP stated that we should eat 6-11 servings of “bread, rice, cereal and pasta” (the “grain” group), followed by fruits and vegetables, then meat & dairy, then fats, oils, and sweets. Although this diet plan does emphasize lower-sugar, it is common knowledge that carbs turn into glucose (sugar) in the blood.

The original FGP made no mention of whole-grains or fiber.

Under the original FGP you could enjoy plenty of white bread, white rice, and pasta and not think twice. Since the original (and even today’s) FGP promoted low-fat, you were limited on all different types of fats.

Technically, you were even a bit limited on your veggies.

Oddly, it also lumps your intake of beans with your intake of meat (I guess because beans are considered a protein source, despite the high fiber content). But help yourself to the white bread and pasta! In fact, if Domino’s could come up with a low-fat version of their pasta-bread bowl, it could’ve fit right in as “healthy” under the guidelines of the original FGP.

My mother is diabetic, and I recall being with her at a doctor visit some years ago. I recall her doctor telling her that she had to limit the portion sizes she was having in things such as white rice, but that green veggies were basically a “free food” that she could enjoy almost limitlessly.

The original FGP instructs you to eat 3-5 servings of foods from the vegetable group. 3-5 servings, yet you can have up to 11 servings (serving sizes listed in the original FGP pamphlet) from the starch group, the group my mom was told to limit herself from.

Really, do you know anyone that will tell you to limit your intake of green vegetables? This especially refers to leafy greens. Obviously the original Atkins’ Diet allows only “a couple small salads each day” but I’m not promoting that diet nor any other in specific.

Food Guide Pyramid Gradually Changing

The original FGP has been quietly, and subtly changed throughout the last several years, now looking like this: The new version is a little more descriptive, but it’s still fascinating that it is being promoted.

The new version now specifies 6oz of “grains” per day (since the new FGP lists requirements in measurements rather than number of servings) and at least instructs you to make half of that whole-grain.

That still leaves 3oz of virtually empty calories though. Soda, candy, potato chips – all considered “junk food” because they are “empty calories”. If you take some regular white bread or pasta, where are the nutrients?

One might argue that your body requires some amount of carbohydrates and white bread still provides calories by way of carbohydrate. However, what’s to stop someone from enriching a candy bar with vitamins and minerals?

What would then elevate the candy bar to the same level of the bread? Rather, why wouldn’t people look at the enriched candy bar the same as the bread?

Why? Because it’s got fat.

Fat is still looked upon with great disdain by anyone following the traditionally recommended low-fat diet plan. The plan ingrained in us for the past few decades.

Can a Candy Bar be Healthier than White Bread?

Check out this list of the glycemic indexes of various foods.

According to the Glycemic Edge, a regular Snickers bar has a glycemic index of 41. A slice of enriched, white Wonder bread on the other hand has a glycemic index of 71. The Snickers bar tastes a lot better than a plain slice of bread, too.

The NIH has posted an article stating:

“Several prospective observational studies have shown that the chronic consumption of a diet with a high glycemic load (GI x dietary carbohydrate content) is independently associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers.”

We could therefore infer the seemingly ludicrous conclusion that you would be better off eating 6-11 servings of Snickers bars than you would of plain pasta.

High-Protein Diet Still Maintaining the “Low-Fat” Ideal

This month’s issue of “For Women FIRST” Magazine advertises on the cover a promise of a diet that will rid you of your “jiggly fat” (I’ve never heard of toned fat, but who knows) and weight loss in quantities of 9lbs a week. This claim wasn’t just splashed across the page like magazines normally do.

It was being so heavily promoted that it looked like they’d slapped a glossy sticker across the cover to make certain it caught your eye.

For Women FIRST Magazine, Jiggly-Fat Busting Low Carb Diet Claims

Toned fat melts more slowly...

Curious, I flipped through a few pages to see just what sort of diet this supposedly was. The gist of this particular diet recommended 45-55% protein and the other part made up almost entirely of vegetables. Followers of the diet were boasting vast improvements not only in weight, but in cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well.

It did, however, still specify that your protein should be lean.

The basic recommendation of a diet of half protein and half vegetables sounds reasonable since vegetables have plenty of vitamins, nutrients, and high water content, while protein doesn’t carry the glycemic load. I actually had tossed this idea around before for myself and my mother, back when the Atkins’ diet was first being splattered all over infomercials.

My mother had already been diagnosed with diabetes and out of concern for her health, it sounded perfectly practical. We never tried it, but the idea of eating mostly foods that didn’t raise blood sugar in a disease of having elevated blood sugar levels seemed as simple as 2+2.

On the other hand, I prefer to let other people be the guinea pigs first, especially when taking my mother’s health into consideration.

The Lipid Hypothesis

There is a whole debate over the “lipid hypothesis” that would imply the fanatical fear of fat is, in a nutshell, fueled by the government (and supporting doctors) not wanting to back down from their original conclusions and admit that they may have made a huge and detrimental mistake.

The lipid hypothesis is what everyone “knows” as “truth” and that is – saturated fat is bad and causes high blood cholesterol which can clog arteries leading to heart disease and stroke. Type “lipid hypothesis” in Google and your immediate search suggestions include words such as “debunked”, “wrong”, and “myth”.

NIH even acknowledges the likely possibility, even though grocery stores are filled with aisle after aisle of products that are aimed at having you continue to believe it. “Low-Fat”, “Non-Fat”, and “Low Saturated Fat” are plastered on most every label of anything claiming to have dietary value.

Granted, more recent years have seen an increase in “Low-Carb” labeling, but that’s grossly overwhelmed by the products still boasting low or no fat contents.

There are countless articles out there supporting the theory that the lipid hypothesis is wrong. Countless more still hold steadfast to the original low-fat diet recommendations, as proven by the “First” magazine’s diet recommendation of high protein but still low-fat.

Another note-worthy point is that some now even recommend saturated fat over the polyunsaturated fats that have been so highly recommended over the past so many years due to polyunsaturated fats causing higher levels of oxidized LDL which is supposedly a proven source of inflammation that leads to heart disease.

All in all, if people are losing weight and lowering triglycerides (and even cholesterol, though that’s a debated part of the lipid hypothesis for its perceived vs actual role in heart disease) by eating lower-carb versus the highly promoted low-fat diet, isn’t it possible that the lipid hypothesis is in fact wrong?

Is it possible that the entire premise of the FGP – which is still promoted by the USDA (albeit in varied proportions from the original version) – is based merely on an issue of pride, power, and/or greed?

If many people are able to lose weight and, more importantly, become healthier overall based on doing exactly opposite of what they’ve been instructed to do – doesn’t that bear a little consideration as well as a “Hey, we’re sorry. We may have made a mistake,” sort of apology?

Time will be the only way to tell.

Have you tried a low-carb, high-protein, higher-fat diet? Or perhaps a diet similar to the one advertised in First? What kind of results have you seen with your health?


Posted on April 1, 2011, in Food, Health, Life and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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