Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic: the proposed 2010 USDA Food Guide

By Louisa Enright | Aug 11, 2010
Photo by: Patrisha McLean

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have jointly released the proposed 2010 food guide to a fire storm of criticism. But first, let's review recent government food guide history.

The USDA presented a new food guide plan and pyramid design in 2005. It will be considered current until the 2010 guide replaces it. The 2005 graphic is fronted by a triangle composed of colorful triangular stripes representing five food groups (grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, meat and beans). Some triangles are bigger than others. The front triangle is backed by a triangular set of steps with a stick figure climbing upward. A USDA Web site ( allows an individual to enter personal information so that one of 12 personal pyramids is assigned.

Luise Light, hired by the USDA to design the 1980 USDA food guide, published "What to Eat" in 2006, which in part describes how USDA political appointees manipulated Light's proposed guide to favor industry. Light warns that with the 2005 food guide the USDA again is trying to please everyone, makers of junk food and proponents of nutritionally important foods. The 2005 guide, warns Light, is built around calories, which translates that "all foods are good foods." One has only to count calories, even junk food calories, to be healthy.

But, Light explains, by shifting "the emphasis away from best food choices to a new food democracy where every food is equal," the USDA ignored "research over the last ten years" that shows "the types of foods, ingredients, and eating patterns that are beneficial for health and weight."

I believe this strategy also removes responsibility from industry for producing unhealthy foods. By emphasizing individual choice, it becomes the individual's responsibility not to eat that which makes him or her fat or sick -- even though highly processed fake foods, tainted foods and chemically poisoned foods fill national supermarkets.

Light explains that "more than half of all consumers in a nationwide survey" responded that they were confused by the new pyramid. Yet, the USDA allocated no funds to promote the new guide. Rather, the USDA planned to task industry with helping to educate Americans about food choices. Light notes that the Idaho Potato Commission immediately announced that carbohydrates, including potatoes, are the best fuel for muscles.

But, Light reminds, in reality, the food guide was never meant to be "a tool for health promotion based on the latest scientific studies about healthy eating." And, she asks if it isn't time that nutritional questions are "answered by knowledgeable, independent authorities without a vested interest." Right now, people are "told different things at every turn by physicians, teachers, dietitians, the government and food marketers."

The government released the 2010 proposed food guide this spring and scheduled public hearings and organized a Web site for public comments. Criticism involves, in part, the fact that the proposed guide not only continues down the path that has produced a national obesity epidemic and chronic health problems, it ups the ante on its unscientific position regarding dietary cholesterol and saturated fats by further lowering recommended daily levels. Under the new rules, one cannot eat an egg. Or cheese.

Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, agrees that the 2005 guidelines were "not based on science but were designed to promote the products of commodity agriculture and -- through the back door -- encourage the consumption of processed foods." The 2010 guide, Fallon writes, is an exercise in rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Indeed, Fallon notes, "putting the USDA in charge of the dietary guidelines is like letting the devil teach Sunday school."

Fallon notes that the "USDA-sanctioned industrialization of agriculture" has resulted in "a huge reduction in nutrients and increase in toxins in the American diet." Government food guides "have caused an epidemic of suffering and disease, one so serious that it threatens to sink the ship of state." The 2010 proposed guide is "a recipe for infertility, learning problems in children and increased chronic disease in all age groups." And, Fallon notes, while a growing number of Americans are figuring out what's wrong with government-sponsored nutritional guides, millions in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and schools are trapped in the Frankenstein creation that is "a tragic and failed experiment."

The American diet, Fallon notes, contains widespread deficiencies in the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, K and E. But, Fallon explains, "there is no way for Americans to consume sufficient quantities of these critical vitamins while confined to the low-fat, low-saturated fat, low-cholesterol, low-calorie cage of the USDA dietary guidelines."

The WAPF argues that dietary cholesterol is a precursor to vitamin D and that our cells need cholesterol for stiffness and stability. And the WAPF warns that the USDA committee is ignoring "basic biochemistry" that "shows that the human body has a very high requirement for saturated fats in all cell membranes." If we do not eat saturated fats, the body makes them from carbohydrates, but this process "increases blood levels of triglyceride and small, dense LDL, and compromises blood vessel function." Further, high carbohydrate diets do not satisfy the appetite, which leads to higher caloric intakes, binging, rapid weight gain and chronic disease. This diet is "particularly dangerous for those suffering from diabetes or hypoglycemia, since fats help regulate blood sugar levels."

The USDA committee's solution, Fallon explains, is to "eat more `nutrient- dense' fruits and vegetables." But, Fallon notes, "fruits and vegetables are not nutrient-dense foods." Nutrients in plant foods do not compare with "those in eggs, whole milk, cheese, butter, meat and organ meats."

Fallon points out that some USDA committee members are concerned with "the choline problem." Choline is "critical for good health and is especially necessary for growing children. If choline intake is too low during pregnancy and growth, brain connections cannot form. And, if choline is abundant during developmental years, the individual is protected for life from developmental decline."

Excellent sources of choline are egg yolks and beef and chicken liver. Fallon notes that the National Academy of Sciences recommends amounts of choline consumption that violate the USDA's proposed cholesterol limits. So, she argues, "while we watch in horror the blighting of our children's lives with failure to thrive, learning disorders, attention deficit disorder, autism and mental retardation, the committee is sticking to its anti-cholesterol guns."

Analysis on the WAPF Web site details how the USDA committee has swept "the dangers of trans fat under the rug by lumping them with saturated fats, using the term `solid fats' for both." This categorization hides the "difference between unhealthy industrial trans fats and healthy traditional saturated fats."

Also, notes the WAPF, the USDA committee has promoted "an increase in difficult-to-digest whole grains," without specifying that all grains, nuts, seeds and beans need to be soaked to remove the powerful antinutrient phytic acid. (More on this subject later.)

I agree with the WAPF assessment that the 2010 guide should be scrapped and that "the committee members should be replaced with individuals who have no ties to the food processing industry or to universities that accept funding from the food processing industry."







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