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Food Pyramid Follies

October 1, 2010 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

My primary objective for this site is to assist patients and physicians in improving the quality of health care. A new article appearing in the October 1st issue of the journal Nutrition suggests a timely strategy to accomplish this end. On June 15, the 2010 Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee Report (DGAC) was released. The recommendations contained therein will play a major role in shaping the USDA Food Pyramid. This will, in turn, affect the lives of most Americans and “strongly influence nutrition education, research funding, governmental meal programs including school lunches, as well as providing direction for the food industry, regulatory agencies, consumer advocates, and the media”. As you can imagine, the health ramifications of the report are immense with respect to health care spending and quality of life. The problem, according to the prestigious authors of the new paper entitled, “In the Face of Contradictory Evidence”, is that the guidelines are likely to continue an upward trend in preventable diseases directly associated with the dietary recommendations espoused by the DGAC Report.

You will never find disheartening information on HealthyFellow.com that you can’t do something about. I’m neither a doomsday prophet nor someone who ever believes that all is lost. Today’s column represents an opportunity for people of all backgrounds and political affiliations to get involved in a process that will profoundly affect the future of our country and beyond. For those of you who are not US citizens, please don’t tune out now. Similar governmental policies are taking root throughout the world. Likewise, a similar intellectual uprising can take hold in virtually any geographical location.

One of the lead authors of the article in question is a friend of this site, Dr. Richard Feinman. He summarizes the content of the 10 page report thusly: “The previous (dietary) guidelines have not worked well. It is simply unreasonable to ask the DGAC to audit its own work. An external panel of scientists with no direct ties to nutritional policy would be able to do a more impartial evaluation of the data. This would be far better for everyone.”

There are numerous obvious flaws in the current version of DGAC. In fact, much of the data used to form the DGAC conclusions are in opposition to many reputable, peer-reviewed studies in the medical literature. What’s even more baffling is that a good deal of the research cited in the DGAC Report does not even support the recommendations which are ultimately presented. (1)

  • The matter of carbohydrates is described in the following manner [p. D5-43]: “Studies of carbohydrates and health outcomes on a macro-nutrient level are often inconsistent or ambiguous due to inaccurate measures and varying food categorizations and definitions”. And yet, the DGAC Report goes on to simply state that, “Healthy diets are high in carbohydrates”.
  • The “calories in, calories out” theory of disease and obesity is prevalent in DGAC. However, in recent years, caloric intake has largely remained within recommended levels and exercise has increased. In addition, the average American has shifted closer to the current and previous recommendations set forth in the USDA Food Pyramid – a diet lower in dietary cholesterol and fat. Given this, one would expect an improvement in diet-influenced diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. The opposite is true.
  • The benefits of carbohydrate-restricted diets are briefly acknowledged, but then summarily dismissed in the final conclusions of the report. DGAC describes such diets as “difficult to maintain over the long term, and may be less safe”. Once again, the exact opposite is demonstrated in much of the medical literature. In reality, low-carbohydrate diets tend to have lower attrition rates and are likely to promote better cardiovascular health via greater reductions in systolic blood pressure, triglycerides and an increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Reducing carbohydrate intake is generally more effective in promoting weight loss as well. (2,3,4,5,6)

What’s also shocking to note is how similar the current DGAC Report recommendations are to the 1977 report. How can it be that we’ve learned so little in more than 30 years? The October 1st Nature article remarks that “in the three decades since, carbohydrate consumption has increased; overall fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol consumption have decreased to near or below targeted levels; and leisure-time physical activity has increased slightly. At the same time, scientific evidence in favor of these recommendations remains inconclusive, and we must consider the possibility that the ‘potential for harmful effects’ has in fact been realized”. (7)

Now that we know the problem. Let’s discuss a viable solution. The Nutrition and Metabolism Society is asking for our help to positively shape the direction of this nation’s dietary policy. Here’s what they’re respectfully requesting that we do:

1) Contact your congressperson via an appointment, e-mail, fax, letter, telephone and Twitter. Ask your representative (or an aide) to stop the current nutritional guideline process. History tells us that it’s bound to continue damaging health trends and will, almost certainly, be very costly on a local and national level. You can contact your congress person via this link: Congressional Contact Information or Tweet Congress.

2) Ask your congressperson to institute a congressional hearing that will include “all valid science”. Tell them that you’re interested in real change not just the same old policies that haven’t worked in the past and don’t work in the present. The Nutrition and Metabolism Society would appreciate it if you’d copy them on any e-mails that you send to your representatives at: info@nmsociety.org

3) Please consider supporting non-profit nutritional advocacy groups such as the Nutrition and Metabolism Society. They hardly get any media attention but they’re constantly dedicating effort and time in the pursuit of improving the nutritional dialogue in a typically inhospitable climate. If you’re able to, I suggest joining their noble cause by becoming a member. Even small financial contributions and words of encouragement would be helpful.

This is a copy of an email I sent to my congresswoman, Jane Harmon:

Dear Congresswoman Harmon,

I’m a concerned voter in your district. I’d like to alert you to a pressing policy issue that I believe will have far-reaching economic and health consequences for our state and beyond. On June 15, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report (DGAC) was released. A new publication in the prestigious medical journal, Nutrition, calls into serious question the findings and recommendations set forth in DGAC. Here is the URL to the full-text of the article: http://www.nutritionjrnl.com/article/PIIS0899900710002893/fulltext

The reason I’m writing you today is to ask that you please intervene in order to allow for additional input into the dietary strategy that is currently being proposed. The report, as it presently stands, will continue the destructive dietary recommendations that have contributed to increased rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity over the past three decades. The voices of many, largely unheard but well-respected physicians and researchers including Dr. Adele H. Hite of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dr. Richard D. Feinman of SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Dr. Eric C. Westman of Duke University and Jeff Volek of the University of Connecticut desperately need to be considered.

An evidence-based approach to the new dietary guidelines led by anthropologists, biochemists, geneticists and physicists could make great strides in improving the nutritional direction of our nation. I can tell you from personal experience that the past and present nutritional guidelines directly contributed to many years of poor health in my own life. However, after changing my diet in a way that is not encouraged by the antiquated USDA Food Pyramid, I’ve subsequently lost over 90 lbs, kept them off and regained my good health. I only recently learned how to accomplish this by reading the scientific research provided by the group of physicians and researchers mentioned above. Sadly, their voices are not being heard by most health care providers and the patients that need it the most.

I would very much value hearing your thoughts about this important policy issue. I’d welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter further with you or an aide if it would be helpful. Or, better yet, Dr. Richard D. Feinman is also available as a point person to contact about further steps that can and, I believe, should be taken. Dr. Feinman can be reached at: feinman@mac.com.

Sincerely, John Paul Fantonย  jp@healthyfellow.com + (phone number added)

I know that many of you may not require government approved dietary guidelines or a colorful food pyramid to help you decide what to eat. But the fact remains that these sanctioned recommendations have an undeniable impact on public health in general. If you’re lucky enough to have figured out a healthier diet than what’s currently advocated by the USDA, consider yourself fortunate. All of us have areas in our lives in which we’re informed and other where we rely on the information presented by so-called authorities. Millions upon millions of US citizens, many of them too busy or young to know any better, will rely on the DGAC conclusions when selecting food. Likewise, thousands of food manufacturers and providers will depend on their conclusions to shape what they produce and serve to the public at large. The end result is that we’ll all pay the price for these apparently misguided nutritional policies in one way or another. This is a grass roots opportunity to do something about it. Please join me in doing so.

Be well!


Posted in General Health, Nutrition

14 Comments & Updates to “Food Pyramid Follies”

  1. Mark Says:

    JP, your letter said it so well. Do we have permission to edit it for our own letter to our congressman?

  2. JP Says:

    Thank you, Mark

    By all means. Please feel free to edit it and use it as you see fit.

    Be well!


  3. Mark Says:


  4. liverock Says:

    The main problem here is those experts on these committees responsible for the food pyramid, would have to change their minds about high carbs being healthy and would also, by association, have to admit that saturated fats were healthy and where not responsible for heart disease and cancer as they had been propogating for years. I think there is probably more chance of Al Gore admitting he was wrong about global warming.

    I think there may be a small shift towards admitting a larger amount of omega 3 in the pyramid and a small reduction in the amount of carbs, but I think thats all you can realistically expect.

    Good luck with your efforts all the same.!

  5. JP Says:

    Thank you, Liverock! ๐Ÿ™‚

    It’s never easy for anyone, much less “the establishement”, to admit miscalculations/mistakes. The higher the stakes, the greater the resistance. But lives are on the line. We’ve got to try!

    Be well!


  6. Nina K. Says:

    Good morning, JP โ˜บ

    …i’m a litte bit late: wish you both a very nice and relaxing weekend โ˜ผโ˜ผโ˜ผ

    …excited looking for next weeks news here ๐Ÿ™‚

    Be well,
    Nina K.

  7. JP Says:

    Thank you, Nina! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I wish you and your husband the same!

    I’m excited to report on it all!

    Be well!


  8. Cassandra Says:

    Great blog post as always. Thank you for alerting us to this article. Just a note — your “sample” letter refers to the journal “Nature” not “Nutrition”.

  9. JP Says:

    Thank you very much for catching that, Cassandra! Corrected! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Be well!


  10. Paul F. Says:


    I sent this e-mail on his site to my congressman Ed Royce:

    Dear Congressman,

    I request your support for a review of the antiquated Nutrition Pyramid Guidelines in effect.

    These guidelines perhaps have been influenced by Food processors and restaurant chains! They lack a progressive attitude by ignoring the benefits of the Low Carbohydrates Diets with moderate Fat in conquering Obesity and improving the CVD markers.

    The LCDLF has been proven effective in studies such as:


    The consequences of not allowing the new views to be reviewed and evaluated and hopefuly introduced in a New Pyramid to Kill Obesity shall be terrible for our New generations and shall increase the cost of health care for unwarranted diabetes Type 2 to ruin our economy.

    I am 76 and healthy and have further improved my BMI and CVD markers by modifying my already good DASH diet toward LCD MODERATE IN FAT.

    My weigth decreased from 147 Lbs to 142 Lbs in three months, so my BMI decreased from 24 to 22 and my fasting blood sugar is in low 80s. My moderate belly vanished!
    I feel great!

    I could not achieve these improvements in years of using LFD DASH diets. I found easy to adopt the LCDLF and I do not have hunger attacks and look much younger.

    A moderate amount of physical activity has been my norm at least for three years, so it did not cause my better weight!

    I feel so sorry when I see many youths, middage and older people saddled with obesity and possibly in their way to acquire diabetes Type 2, or already having it! This can be reversed! Billions in yearly savings and happier people!

    My son is also on this diet and he lost 90 Lbs in seven months and is now slim and trim at 37 years old. He has been holding his new healthy weight now for months.

    Please act on this request! You will be rewarded in history for contributing to make this change take place!


    Gianfranco Paul F.

    I may have to follow up with other details?

    Please suggest.

    Thank you!


  11. JP Says:

    Thank you for taking the time to contact your congressman, Paul. I really appreciate it.

    I think your e-mail expresses your views very well. They’re heartfelt and impassioned. I think it’s helpful that you also included the link to the summary article by Dr. Feinman and his colleagues. It provides all the information one can hope to know about the current controversy.

    Be well!


  12. Robert Says:

    I am a huge enthusiast when it comes to nutrition and am always learning about new types of foods I should be eating and what essential things I’m missing in my diet. I’m interested in comparing the nutritional guidelines and eating habits of other cultures to the American eating habits. So many individuals are uneducated when it comes to making healthy decisions about the food they eat and creating an evidence-based food pyramid is necessary. I think Americans eat way too much meat in the diet. Stressing the importance of fruits, vegetables and whole grains with a little meat or protein should become a major role.

  13. Richard Feinman Says:

    Thanks to JP for this blog and your letter to congresswoman Harmon. I just returned from the saturated fat conference at Wayne State. The meeting should be available in a couple of weeks.

    There was one speaker from the USDA and he went through the details of the formation of Nutrition Evidence Library which, in the end, is what the committee says is evidence. My own talk made an analogy with courts of law where a judge decides what evidence is admissible. The DGAC, of course, has no such control. There was a panel discussion in which both I and Ed McNamara, former head of Egg Nutrition Council asked about the recommendations. In particular I said they make a recommendation on solid and there has never been a study on “solid” fat — in fact, it is not really defined. I pointed out there are people who keep there house cold enough that olive oil is solid. He said there was a definition but I pointed out that there were no studies. He said he would have to contact the committee. To be fair, the whole process is out of control. The committee was charged with impossible task. It was as if congress had said that every five years the people who ran the war in Iraq five years ago tell us what to do next there.

    The last talk by Darius Mozaffarian from Harvard School of Public Health summarized all the studies showing that there is no effect of saturated fat on heart disease. He was quite clear and did not mince words but did not let the other shoe drop — the guidelines are wrong, way wrong and the major objection to low carbohydrate diets over the years has been on the issue of saturated fat. Instead he went off on the idea of food instead of nutrients which, in my view, is a completely meaningless idea. He gave examples of desirable foods and how they didn’t necessarily have nutrients in common. Of course, having thrown out nutrients as a criterion, desirable meant he likes it.

    Anyway, great blog and I think we have an opportunity. It is not just the corruption of science, it is not just the effect this will have in repressing research. It is that there is emphasis in the guidelines on enforcement. The push to “teach” kids about plant based food has already taken place in my own daughter’s school. This is not just an intellectual problem. This is a grass-roots issue. It is no accident that FoxNews was the station that invited me to an interview (however short). Their stereotype of a small group of bureaucrats trying to control your life because they know better than you do what is good for you is actually played out in the dietary guidelines. There are unfortunately a million political issues that can use grass-roots support but this is a good one to get behind. The Nutrition and Metabolism Society is trying to bring all of the different voices together and provide better education — if it gets the audience we expect, the Wayne State Conference is some kind of landmark — Wayne State provided terrific organization and staff but outside money was required. We are one of the sponsors and we are straining to meet our financial commitment and need your help. We’re trying. Join us. Tell us what you want. Send money.

    Richard Feinman.

  14. JP Says:

    Thank you for that insightful and timely message, Dr. Feinman. It’s always good to get an inside perspective on these issues. I’ll make sure to link to the Wayne State content as soon as it becomes available. I’ll also keep a look out for it on your site and Twitter account.

    Please keep me posted on how I can contribute to the effort. I’d be happy to do so.

    Be well!


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