Food Pyramid: We Got It Wrong!

For to long we have be wrong! Myself included. With the dogma that dietary fat is unhealthy causing us to get fat mass which then leads to high cholesterol, heart disease etc. However, is this truly the case??

No in fact it is continually being proven wrong! Sugar is the culprit we should be worried about, not fat.

In this post we will dive into my personal experience transitioning from traditional ‘High Carbohydrate Diet’ to a ‘High Fat Low Carbohydrate Diet (HFLC)’, finally discuss what lead our society to this point and how we got it all wrong.

My Experience in Transitioning

Before finding the High Fat, Low Carb (HFLC) diet I was bound to the pantry, unable to venture too far away from my food. I was a genuine bottomless pit constantly refueling with snacks that I felt were a necessity to get me through the day. This regular refueling involved continuous spikes in energy followed swiftly by crashes that greatly affected my focus and performance in both sport and everyday life. Mid afternoon was where I would really hit the wall, with an energy crash on most days. This was coupled with an inability to regulate my hunger, body weight (fat mass).

Transitioning from a believed high “healthy” carbohydrate diet (Classic traditional food pyramid diet) where I had minimised fat as much as possible, always selecting low fat option where possible, towards a HFLC diet had the most profound effect in both my health and performance.

It was more a mental shift than anything else, as I went against popular belief and ate what was thought to be an extremely dangerous unhealthy diet. One of the first things I noticed was the need for regular refueling and constant snacking was diminished, for the first time I was satisfied and did not feel the need to always be close to food. However, even though I was not hungry the thought of scarcity made it difficult to initially break the habit of always being close to food. I had to consciously define whether my urge was hunger or habit. Once in control of this, I was rewarded with freedom and massive amount of bonus time as I no longer needed to organise my life around food. An additional bonus was I no longer experienced energy spikes and crashes, I found I had more energy overall and this continuous stream allowed me to stay focused and be more productive day in and day out. Finally I was able to drop excess weight and had the ability to regulate my fat mass. Along with all the my physical performance in sport greatly increased. I will touch on the Fat Adapted Athlete later this month, arming you with everything you need to know so stay tuned.

 

Paradigm Shift

Flipping traditional nutritional strategies on head and taking the complete opposite approach can be scary! This is a complete paradigm shift from what I had and have been taught for so long! This was not easy, especially as this is what I was taught in my sport science degree only not that long ago, so must be right? Sadly we have been wrong and for too long and I will be the first to say I preached this traditional message for way too long. It is time to open our minds to another approach to nutrition. I am not saying this is a one fix all approach, there is no such thing in my opinion but this is absolutely a strategy you must consider!

 

Why did I change?

As for most paradigm shifts, it all begins with a personal struggle and a need for change. Chronically ill, traditional medicine said I was fit and healthy with nothing to worry about. Knowing this wasn’t the case I dived deeper past my symptoms that doctors said where normal and I identified I was dealing with severe gut and adrenal issues. Traditional medicine couldn’t even diagnose therefore no chance they could help me get over it. It was left to me to research the literature and figure it out myself. After researching and testing, I identified along with some severe food intolerances and I was fueling completely wrong! At this low point, I was willing to try anything. As I opened my mind I quickly realised that this “on the fringe” nutritional approach High Fat Low Carbohydrate had quite a lot of successes and had been well documented with a rapidly growing body of literature. Especially with in epilepsy and cancer research. After reading study after study I began to realise the true potential of this approach and the wide ranging application it had. The doubts in my mind gradually dissipated until it was time to challenge the status quo and take action and dive into the world of a high fat myself.

 

Background into the Carbohydrate Vs. Fat Debate.

You know the results, it was an amazing success! However, I still get so many that challenge my approach. Let’s take a step back and see where traditional carbohydrate focused (Food Pyramid) approach came from.

After the success of a study correlating smoking and cancer, America saw a significant decrease in both smoking and lung cancer. They decided to mimic a similar approach to combat heart disease which was a relatively new disease at this point. This study had such potential if done correctly. When establishing the new regulations there were two trains of thought, 1) High Fat and 2) High Carbohydrate. We all know what camp they picked. Sadly the research selected was biased, promoted by the big food companies driving the science to promote their products with invested interests and and today has been great scrutinised for it’s bad scientific approach. Billions were even spent trying to replicate the results of this study. Paper after paper could not prove the high carbohydrate diet to be a healthy diet! Yet we still eat this way….

As a result there has been a heavy debate ever since, as to whether sugar or fat is the culprit of the obesity epidemic. The peak of this debate was reached in 1970’s where fat was pinned as the cause of our general decline in metabolic health and massive gain in body fat.

The first dietary guidelines was designed in 1980 to combat heart disease. Landmark epidemiological studies, beginning as far back as the 1940s and ‘50s, linked heart disease to sodium, cholesterol, saturated fats and trans fats. The solution appeared clear: Cut down on the butter, whole milk and steak all the sources of saturated fats. As a result consumers zeroed in on low-fat foods, however, they didn’t necessarily adopt healthier diets overall.

In 1992 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced the Food Pyramid, it focused on a significant increases in carbohydrate and reduction in fat. This resulted in a 15% reduction in overall fat consumption in the american diet. However, obesity and diabetes exploded at this same time.

Today, obesity rates are raising to epidemic levels and showing no signs of decline. With the incline in obesity so to has the rate of heart disease, diabetes and many other inflammatory diseases. While a key component we can not attribute this sad state of affairs to bad sciences and poor nutritional guidelines, we must also address that there are many factors at play. Technology is one of the key components, making our lives simpler in all areas, except for the fact that it leads to less work/activity and as a result makes us more sedentary. For example since entering the information age our once labour intensive jobs are continually becoming passive and sedentary by nature as technology does all the hard yards for us. This is extremely dangerous if not combated as the human bodies are designed for locomotion. Check out my Workplace wellness series of blog post for more information on this.

Before wrapping this up I would be remiss if I did take a step back to when the world was healthy, with minimal instances of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. This actually was not this long ago! Ask any of the older generation what their diet used to consist of and what you will find is their diets were based around healthy nutrient dense fats like butter, lard, meat and even lots of organ meats etc and was extremely low in carbohydrate. However, for some reason we seem to forget this.

Wrap up

Hopefully this has given you a background understanding of how we ended up in the position we are today and why a change is required. In the future post I will look into the benefits of HFLC and why you should consider it if you have not already. Finally progressing toward the athletic performance benefits of the diet and how you can apply it.