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In putting together some materials for a side-by-side comparison of the nutrient content of the USDA recommendations vs. a well-composed “Paleo/Primal” meal plan, I had high hopes for revealing the laughably low nutritional value of our governmental recommendations.
My comparison would be, I thought, enough to convince even the most stubborn My Pyramid-er/Plate-er/whatever-the-latest-concept-er that a grain-free diet, free of refined conventional dairy and based on ancestral principles (real food: meats, vegetables, healthy fats, fruits) was vastly superior to a diet composed of…whatever agricultural-industry junk the USDA wants us to eat. Lest we forget, the USDA’s primary mission is to support agriculture, and the agricultural interests exerting lobbying power and influencing policy within our government are primarily large-scale commercial agriculture operations: large-scale conventional feedlot meat & dairy, large-scale conventional grains, and large-scale conventional “vegetable” oils. Which are not made from vegetables.
These large-scale commercial industries are different in every way from sustainable agriculture; small, grass-based farming operations, and growing operations based on soil health and integrated pest management. (Click here for more.)
It comes as no surprise that the USDA recommendations (and the joint USDA/FDA “Dietary Guidelines for Americans”) are based mostly on the idea that low-fat dairy and grains are healthy, necessary, and indispensable. I’m sensing a profound conflict of interest.
I was incredibly disappointed to realize that the USDA’s dietary recommendations are actually quite adequate when it comes to meeting the RDA (or RDI – same thing, new name) of nutrients & minerals, even when compared to a Paleo-style diet. So my plan bit the dust.
I had a crisis of faith. I began questioning everything. I ran through the local supermarket nude, screaming “Who Am I?” at the top of my lungs.
Not really. The thing is, the USDA recommends a pretty decent heaping of fruits & veggies that fulfills most RDA for vitamins. And the FDA sets the RDA. So…surprise! Their recommendations fulfill the conditions they set for themselves.
Kind of like when I set myself a goal to sleep in until 1PM and watch nothing but Keeping up with the Kardashians for 12 straight hours while eating nothing but sea salt caramels. I was successful, and congratulated myself for fulfilling all my expectations.
Anyway. The USDA meets its own
rigorous standards by recommending lots of grains, which do contain a few recommended minerals, along with politically-correct fruits and vegetables (no fat, no face) that contain vitamins and fiber.
But here’s where even the USDA can’t meet its own standards of nutrition: it’s not what vitamins and minerals are in your food. It’s how much of that nutrition is AVAILABLE to the body. What we put in our mouths doesn’t mean squat if our bodies can’t make effective use of it. (You can’t see me, but I just screamed that from a mountaintop.)
First off, vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble. When you’re eating no fat, you can’t make use of these vitamins. Even the artificially-Vitamin-D-fortified low-fat dairy the USDA loves so much is worthless in a low-fat diet. Which brings us to the issue of calcium.
The USDA recommends a diet high in calcium but woefully LOW in co-factors like vitamin K2 that cause us to retain the calcium we consume. Ever wonder why Americans take in so much calcium but still suffer extreme bone demineralization? To my next point…
When you take in large volumes of “Whole Grains” in the form of breads, cereals and brown rice as recommended by the USDA, you may be taking in plenty of minerals, but you’re not making effective use of them. Phytic acid and anti-nutrients may make it very difficult. (See the above-mentioned textbook for more on this topic.)
Phytic acid – present in the hulls (the “Whole Grain” part of whole grains) and the “Brown” part of brown rice – may literally bind to minerals like iron, magnesium, and calcium and prevent their absorption by the body. Grains, as a processed food, provide a highly concentrated whack of anti-nutrients. Do I need to explain further? The minerals you’re eating likely aren’t being fully absorbed. This goes for you, your kids, your babies, and your pets (check your pet food – does it include grains?) This is called “inefficiency,” and it’s becoming the legacy of our society.
Phytic acid is one of several types of anti-nutrients. Lectins are another. They’re found in high concentrations in soy, a bastardized substance in its modern incarnations (Tofutti? Tofurkey? ToWTF?) which also provides a concentrated whack o’crap. Large-scale soybean production was originally intended for industrial products and conveniently beaten into food-science submission for all us
science experiments humans to eat. (If you’re a nerd like me, you’ll love reading ^this book. And yes, that’s the type of thing I spend my money on.)
Lectins are also present in beans. While beans are really the least of my worries, it’s still worth noting that other sources of protein and carbs – like properly-raised animals and fruits & veggies – are superior sources of the same.
Whether you read further or not, let me kick back to the point: The conventional grains we’re told to eat provide minerals that likely can’t be absorbed or used by our bodies. This goes for us, our kids, our babies, and our pets. Mineral. Deficient. Babies.
So, with all this in mind, I chose a new approach based on the very real problems inherent to the USDA recommendations.
By going to the USDA website, you can input your information and generate a meal plan based on your individual “needs.” Here’s what I got based on my input, along with the potential concerns, which go far beyond just mineral deficiency.
Many modern oils are partially hydrogenated before they reach your food “products” or your plate. “Partially hydrogenated” means “trans fats.” ^Trans fats are bad. Very, very bad.
The intensive processing modern dairy undergoes, from high-temp pasteurization and homogenization to skimming and reconstituting, may damage dairy proteins and removes co-factors for vitamin D utilization and calcium absorption, like vitamin K2. (Which, incidentally, is probably not found in conventional dairy anyway. K2 concentrates in animals who are fed their natural diet.) ^This book is a fantastic dairy resource.
Conventional grains are also a potential trigger for autoimmune disease. Research on this topic is ongoing – much of it spearheaded by Alessio Fasano.
So, from here, I follow up with recommendations to resolve the deficiencies while still maintaining a decent intake of healthy protein, fat and carbohydrate with approximately the same number of calories. The best part? The nutrient density and retention is high and the glycemic index is ridiculously low compared to the USDA recommendations. To phrase this professionally: the USDA can suck it.
Since we’re savvy Paleologists and we understand that fat is NOT to be feared if consumed from biologically appropriate sources like grass-fed meats, avocados, olives, and coconut oil; and because we know that insoluble fiber from “Whole Grains” is gut-irritating while soluble fiber from vegetables and fruits is gut-repairing, I rest my recommendations confidently on the ideas I present next:
So tell me: what did you used to eat that you thought was healthy? What do you enjoy now instead?