Dr. Sarah King, ND
With a new year comes new resolutions. We want to better ourselves, eat healthier, exercise more. Right on cue the USDA decided to help out by releasing new dietary guidelines.
The new guidelines include reducing sugar, salt, and saturated fat intake to a maximum of 10% of our daily caloric intake. Other suggestions from these guidelines include:
- Eat a variety of vegetables
- Fruits, especially whole fruits
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy
- A variety of protein foods (including lean meats, eggs, legumes and soy)
Sounds reasonable but vague. Some critics are already biting into this topic with the fact that our diet is strongly influenced by foods subsidized by the government. Corn is at the top of this list and rapidly became a cheaper alternative as a sweetener to sugar cane. So the USDA wants you to consume less sugar, but what about education on the different forms of sugar. You have to dive deep into the end of the 6th section of Chapter 1 to find it. Fruits contain sugar (fructose) and are on the “good” list but added fructose is on the “bad” list – easily confusing. Corn syrup is sugar, and we know the devastating effects that high-fructose corn syrup can have on cardiovascular health, but again, this health advisory is buried deep in the document.
As for the rest of the list, none of this is news-breaking but it’s still too vague. To say “oils” isn’t enough. We should be educating the public on the benefits and harms of different types of oils, and the USDA couldn’t even get that one right. Coconut oil is a saturated fat (on the “bad”/avoid list), however, it’s health benefits are numerous including cardioprotective properties1, prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease2, reduction of side effects from chemotherapy3, and reduction in abdominal obesity4. They also incorrectly identify coconut oil as having a “high content of short-chain saturated fatty acids” when it actually contains medium-chain triglycerides. Their source for this information: the USDA themselves.5
Advising low-fat or fat-free dairy seems to be outdated. Results from a review in European Journal of Nutrition6 in 2013 actually suggest that high-fat dairy foods are inversely associated with obesity. In Chapter 1 of the USDA’s document: “A closer look inside healthy eating patterns” they also recommend for those of us who are lactose-intolerant (myself included) that we opt for lactose-free dairy or soy beverages. But if you’re sensitive to soy, or have issues with your estrogen levels, this isn’t a viable option.
So the real issue is their detailed information and the delivery of that information. Most of us know that vegetables are good for you, and that too much sugar is a bad thing. But people still do it. The problem is two-fold: First, the availability of high-sugar, high-sodium, processed foods. They’re everywhere! Fast-food restaurants and packaged foods have become normal in our society and they’re inexpensive compared to healthier counterparts. North America is relatively convenience-based. If it’s fast and easy, we’re likely to take advantage of it. Five-minute frozen dinners and $5 hamburger meals? Sounds like a deal for your wallet and your time. But your body and mind get sacrificed for these conveniences.
The second problem is in the marketing of food and food products. It’s great that the USDA is taking part in telling us to reduce sugar, but what about the hundreds of ads, commercials, and fun-looking labels that tell us our packaged foods are good for us? For example, we are programmed to believe that kids’ cereals are a great way to start the day. Food companies boast that their cereal is made with “whole grains” (one of the new recommendations by the USDA) and is fortified with vitamins and minerals as written by General Mills on Lucky Charms cereal. To point out the obvious, the ingredient list on Lucky Charms reads: “Whole grain oats, sugar, oat flour, corn syrup, modified corn starch, dextrose, salt, gelatin, Yellow 5&6, Red 40, Blue 1 and other colour added.” Replace this with an actual bowl of oatmeal or quinoa porridge and you’re on the right track.
The next goal in food education needs to be label-reading. As above, foods that contain whole grains may also contain large amounts of sugar and additives. So what should our dietary guidelines actually look like?
- Eat whole foods
- Limit sugar consumption (brown sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, raw sugar, sucrose)
- Vegetables should make up the majority of your plate
- Incorporate lots of forms of protein, but limit red meat to only a few times per month (due to cardiovascular risk).
- Eat healthy fats: avocados, olive oil, fish, eggs
- Including a variety of types of foods (ie. Instead of only wheat try other grains like quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat)
- Drink water instead of juice or soda
- Everything else in moderation
The take-home message: Be critical and mindful of what you’re buying and consuming. Focus on whole foods and decrease sugar consumption. No one can eat exactly as calculated by the USDA or even Canada’s food guide. Most people have at least one food sensitivity. There is no “one-size fits all” food guide, so focus on just eating more natural foods or visit your naturopathic doctor if you need some extra support.
Dr. Sarah King is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor, graduating from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in 2014. Prior to completing her medical studies, she attended Nipissing University where she received her Honors Bachelor of Science in Biology. Sarah has a passion for women’s health and is a birth doula in Durham and Toronto Region. She treats a wide variety of health conditions including menstrual disorders and hormone balancing, fertility, prenatal care, digestive concerns, skincare and mental health/anxiety. Outside the office Sarah is an avid runner with a love of the GTA’s best forest trails. She also continues to improve her yoga practice and teaches breath work as part of stress management counselling to her patients.
- Babu, Abraham Samuel, Sundar Kumar Veluswamy, Ross Arena, Marco Guazzi, and Carl J. Lavie. “Virgin Coconut Oil and Its Potential Cardioprotective Effects.” Postgraduate Medicine 126.7 (2014): 76-83.
- W. M. A. D. B. Fernando, Ian J. Martins, K. G. Goozee, Charles S. Brennan, V. Jayasena, and R. N. Martins. “The Role of Dietary Coconut for the Prevention and Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease: Potential Mechanisms of Action.” British Journal of Nutrition Br J Nutr 114.01 (2015): 1-14.
- Law, Kim, Nizuwan Azman, Eshaifol Omar, Muhammad Musa, Narazah Yusoff, Siti Sulaiman, and Nik Hazlina Hussain. “The Effects of Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) as Supplementation on Quality of Life (QOL) among Breast Cancer Patients.” Lipids Health Dis Lipids in Health and Disease 13.1 (2014): 139.
- Assunção, Monica L., Haroldo S. Ferreira, Aldenir F. Dos Santos, Cyro R. Cabral, and Telma M. M. T. Florêncio. “Effects of Dietary Coconut Oil on the Biochemical and Anthropometric Profiles of Women Presenting Abdominal Obesity.” Lipids 44.7 (2009): 593-601.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Nutrition Data Laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Release 27, 2015. Available at http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/
- Kratz, Mario, Ton Baars, and Stephan Guyenet. “The Relationship between High-fat Dairy Consumption and Obesity, Cardiovascular, and Metabolic Disease.” European Journal of Nutrition Eur J Nutr 52.1 (2012): 1-24.