Breaking Up with the 2015 Dietary Guidelines

Five years. Numerous new scientific findings. Zero progress.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans launched last week and the bad advice continues. It encourages multiple servings of refined grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein and limiting saturated fat.

Here’s the recommended Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern:

health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/a-closer-look-inside-healthy-eating-patterns/#table-1-1Table in 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Let’s break it down:

GRAINS
Six servings of grains are recommended per day, with three of those coming from refined grains. I have nothing against whole grains but to suggest that we consume the refined variety is one of the reasons we’re dealing with an obesity epidemic.

Refined grains are white flour and white rice that have been processed to remove the most nutritious parts of the food. These are metabolized immediately in the body as glucose, spiking insulin levels. The day-after-day effects of this can and will eventually lead to diabetes. And the government wants us to consume three serving of these foods every day. 


DAIRY
Full-fat dairy is healthier, and more nutrient-rich than low-fat. Yet the US Guidelines strictly recommends the later.

When you consume a whole food, you get the whole package of nutrients working together. Whole dairy contains butyrate, phytanic acid, trans palmitoleic acid, and conjugated linoleic acid that have beneficial effects not found in low-fat dairy. Low-fat dairy is basically skimming off all the good stuff our body needs.

High-fat dairy is less likely to contribute to obesity than low-fat and No studies point to low-fat dairy being healthier.

The Guidelines include this false statement:

“Fat-free and low-fat (1%) dairy products provide the same nutrients but less fat (and thus, fewer calories) than higher fat options, such as 2% and whole milk and regular cheese.”

A low-fat recommendation is done primarily to reduce the high saturated fat content. I’ll discuss this next.


FATS
Now this category is most concerning. The government suggests only oils be consumed and all saturated fats be limited to under ten percent. I wrote a detailed post on the benefits of animals fats verses the harmful effects of seed oils here.

It is alarming to see statements such as this in the Guidelines:

“Strong and consistent evidence shows that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, is associated with reduced blood levels of total cholesterol and of low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-cholesterol).”

This is contradictory to current studies showing that seed oils actually reduce HDL cholesterol (the good stuff) when they reduce LDL cholesterol. So they do more harm than good. Saturated fats boost the good cholesterol in our bodies.

For more convincing evidence, read the work of Nina Teicholz, The Big Fat Surprise. She explains how our 30 year low-fat craze is based on very week epidemiological studies.

But there is a victory to celebrate. Trans fats are on the outs for good. The FDA has banned them and is giving food companies just three years to remove them from their products. Woohoo!

  • Until 2019, avoid these items:
    crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies and other baked goods
    snack foods (such as some microwave popcorn)
    stick margarines
    coffee creamers
    refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls)
    ready-to-use frostings


MORE ON CHOLESTEROL
The egg is back on the good food list. Scientific findings are too strong for the Guidelines to ignore this one. As far as cholesterol goes, the limit has been lifted. Hopefully this means bland egg whites and egg beaters will hit the road. Good riddance.


VEGETABLES
Only two and half cups of vegetables are recommended per day. Two and half cups is equivalent to one bell pepper and four spears of asparagus. That’s it. Per day.

We can do better than that.

Vegetables are our top defense against illness. They are packed with phytochemicals that are vital for optimal health and disease prevention. Plants protect against DNA damage, oxidative stress (which is fought against with plentiful antioxidants), reduce inflammation,  slow cancer growth and many other benefits. And plants high in chlorophyll, like dark leafy greens, have protective properties that counteracter the effects of red meat’s carcinogenic proteins.

In order to fight illness and disease, studies show we need at least five servings of vegetables per day to begin seeing decreased risk. The government’s guidelines are half of the beneficial level.

If you really want improvements in your health, up those veggies to 8-9 servings.


SUGAR
Yes, the guidelines actually advocate for a reduction is sugar. In the 2010 document, it vaguely suggests reducing intake of added sugars but does not set a percentage. Now it recommends,

calories from added sugars do not exceed 10 percent per day.”

Ten percent is still a hefty amount though. That’s 200 calories or 50 grams of added sugars per day. Say you have one bottle of vitamin water (125 calories from sugar) and one Cliff Bar (80 calories from sugar), you’re already over the limit. And that could just be lunch. 

The Word Health Organization also calls out to reduce added sugars to less than ten percent. Although they go one step further, advocating that below five percent (25 grams of sugar) will offer more health gains.

Added sugars like refined white sugar and high fructose corn syrup are 100% empty calories, with zero nutrition. They only harm your body. Two-thirds of the US in overweight, and much of that blame is pointed at sugar.  How can the guidelines be so lax on something that is sickening it’s population?


SODIUM
Americans like salt. A lot.

We have the processed food business to thank for supporting this addiction.

Salt prevents foods from spoiling and makes it irresistible to our taste buds. Chips, “cheese” products, frozen dinners, many restaurant meals and most of the items you find in the middle of the grocery store are overloaded with salty appeal.

Take a look at this chart. The last line demonstrates the level of sodium intake. Close to 90 percent of the population exceeds the recommended level, consuming an average of 3,440 mg per day. The guidelines sets the limit to 2,300 mg per day. This is one recommendation I can support since it is pointed to a reduction in processed foods.

health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-2/current-eating-patterns-in-the-united-states/

Graph in 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

 

REAL NUTRITION
“Nutritional needs should be met primarily from foods.” I agree 100 percent with this statement in the Guidelines. Real nutrition comes from whole foods.

Yet the actual recommendations are for few real foods. Refined grains that have been fortified with essential nutrients are ranked higher in priority than vegetables. And to still advocate for seed and vegetables oils is to blatantly ignore current scientific findings. 

Michael Pollan gets it right in his new In Defense of Food documentary. The science is presented accurately, with weigh-in from credible nutrition experts. It is a Must Watch. Then recommend it to everyone you know. I would love to see this shown in every high school across the country. 

In an idealized world, we can push politics and big food lobbying aside and focus on the ingredients of a healthy diet. Until then, steer clear of government nutrition recommendations.


RESOURCES:
2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/

The Government’s Bad Diet Advice
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/21/opinion/when-the-government-tells-you-what-to-eat.html

Still Think Low-Fat Dairy is the “Healthy Choice”? Think Again!
http://chriskresser.com/still-think-low-fat-dairy-is-the-healthy-choice-think-again/

Why Full-Fat Dairy May Be Healthier Than Low-Fat
http://time.com/3734033/whole-milk-dairy-fat/

Current Eating Patterns in the United States
http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-2/current-eating-patterns-in-the-united-states/

New Diet Guidelines Urge Less Sugar for all and less meat for boys and men. 
http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/07/new-diet-guidelines-urge-less-sugar-for-all-and-less-meat-for-boys-and-men/?_r=0

The Link Between Meat and Cancer
http://www.thepaleomom.com/2015/08/the-link-between-meat-and-cancer.html

The Amazing World of Plant Phytochemicals: Why a diet rich in veggies is so important!
http://www.thepaleomom.com/2015/10/the-amazing-world-of-plant-phytochemicals.html

Science Compared to Every Diet and the Winner is Real Food
 http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/science-compared-every-diet-and-the-winner-is-real-food/284595/

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines, at long last by Marion Nestle
http://www.foodpolitics.com/2016/01/the-2015-dietary-guidelines-at-long-last/

WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children
http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/

 

 

Composting: The Whys and the Hows

San Francisco does it. Portland does it. Vermont does it. NYC is doing it next. Composting is coming to a bin near you. Are you ready?

Composting is serious business. We bury 1.2 million tons of food waste in landfills every year at a cost of nearly $80 per ton. Our country is throwing out 40% of the food we grow. Poof, gone, all that hard labor, time and money into the trash.

And all this garbage could be helping us with the right garbage disposal tools from sites as disposalzone.com. That wilted lettuce in the back of your fridge could be working for you. There is good reason it’s called “black gold.” Time to get over the ick-factor, be a responsible adult and give back to the soil.

How exactly does composting work and what are the real benefits?

I sought out expertise from Rebecca Louie, the self-proclaimed Compostess. I first saw her speak at an alternative energy event in the city and I have never met someone so jazzed about compost. Her enthusiasm was palatable and I think she convinced every person in the room to begin a home composting program.

 

WHY COMPOST?

Rebecca says, “About ⅓ of what goes to landfills can be composted. However, instead of being transformed into something useful, most of it sits tightly squeezed under junk in landfills releasing methane and CO2 into the atmosphere and leaching ammonia into the soil and water streams. The effects of pollution and climate change we all know: it’s not good, and it touches every aspect of our daily lives.”

Our food scraps are full of energy to harvest. Rebecca proclaims, “Imagine if we could eliminate that burden on the planet and instead create an amazing soil amendment to grow things in. Imagine if we harnessed some of the byproducts of composting and decomposition as energy and heat sources. The beneficial ripple effect — an alternative to fossil fuels, an increase in healthy soil/green-space/agriculture, a general shift in how we define resources vs. waste…this is all very powerful stuff that can heal the health of many social, political and economic ills!” I’m right there with her. Composting has the potential to be an abundant energy source considering the annual food waste rate of 1.2 million tons.

Composting also leads to healthier soil. Years and years of poor soil management has led to stripping of the earth and we’re actually losing top soil at an alarming rate. And without top soil we are unable to grow nutritious food. Soil contains key nutrients like magnesium, zinc, and copper that are absorbed by the plant as they grow. Composting adds these nutrients back to the soil, producing better quality food.

And to bring composting back to the smaller scale, it will impact the health of your home. Throwing food matter into the garbage makes for a smelly trash can and multiple trips to the outside receptacle. I remember having to take out my trash a few times every week. Now it’s maybe once every two weeks. Composting cuts down on smell, indoor air quality, and trips to the trash can.

Composting: The Whys and the Hows

HOW TO COMPOST

Composting can be as simple as dropping your food scraps in a designated bin or as complex as a large-scale science project. Rebecca says, “I think there is a lot of understandable fear surrounding composting…. (but) the surprising reality is that when following best practices, composting can be an easy, pest and odor-free activity that is largely unobtrusive in a person or work place’s day-to-day life.” In Rebecca’s book, Compost City, she “demystifies and fun-nifies” composting for eco-curious people.Compost City by Rebecca Louie

Here are some options to get a system going in your home. I’ve categorized them from Easy to Advanced.

EASY

  • Collect your food scraps in a small plastic bag. Store it in your freezer and drop it off once a week at a designated drop-off area. This is what I do and I’m fortunate to have a year-round farmers market drop-off spot.
  • Community gardens also offer compost drop-offs year round.
  • Use an air-tight composting bin like the Epica Bin or the Norpro Keeper in your kitchen. These keep it out of your freezer. You’ll still have to drop-off the compost at a local bin or garden.
  • Curbside Pick-ups. All you do is drop the compost into an outdoor bin, and the city collects it for you. This is the convenience winner. The con: It’s only available in select cities like San Francisco, Seattle and limited areas of New York City right now.   
  • Compost pick-up services like Vokashi Kitchen Waste Services or Earth Mamma Compost. These services provide you with a compost bin and then pick-up from you weekly.

Wondering what to compost? Check out this handy graphic created by my friend Elizabeth of The Note Passer by clicking here.

 

INTERMEDIATE

Now we get into the science projects.

  • Vermicomposting involves earth worms converting food waste into compost. Yes, that does mean worms in your house. If you’re at all squeamish about this, then move on to another option. In vermicomposting you need a sturdy container filled with shredded newspaper, worms and food scrapes. Then you just top it with a lid with holes for ventilation. Worms eat their own weight in soil and organic matter every day, so this system is super efficient. You can even keep it right in your kitchen. Check out this Vermicomposting 101 Guide to get started.
  • Bokashi is a the process of fermenting food scraps to prepare them for composting. Rebecca explains, “using wheat bran inoculated with three specific types of microbes, you can ferment all your food waste — including meat, dairy, cooked and oily foods — in an air tight container. (Those foods are usually excluded from aerobic composting because they raise several maintenance issues.) I use 5-gallon lidded buckets both in my home and at my workspace, where we bokashi everything from our fridge-cleanouts as well as coffee, tea and fruit/veg peels. Once the bucket is full and its contents have fermented, it needs to be buried in soil to complete its transformation. My office partners with a community garden to do this; I bury my personal scraps in my window boxes, in the yard of my apartment building, and in containers/planters that I will eventually grow plants in. However, if you don’t have a place to bury your scraps, bokashi won’t work for you.” Read Rebecca’s article on Bokashi to learn more

 

ADVANCED

  • Backyard Bin System. This one is for the dedicated gardener and takes some construction skills. Build your own three-bin composting system with wood, chicken wire and good ol’ man power. Click here for a handy how-to guide with photos.
  • Take matter into your own hands (pun intended!) and begin a composting system at your community garden or a local park. You can work with a team to build a compost bin and the garden/park may have funds to put towards the project.


The “easy” methods work best for me. I like the convenience of keeping the compost in my freezer and simply handing it over to the drop-off location. So then they can make the actually compost magic and I stay dirt-free.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, the Compostess Rebecca advises beginning where you’re comfortable, “even if it is just composting one teabag or banana peel at a time.” Gradually build up as you get more familiar with the system. Composting is a habit and a new habit takes repetition to make stick.

The Compostress - Rebecca Louie

Rebecca Louie is a certified NYC Master Composter, Catskills beekeeper, playful gardener and all-around green girl. As the Compostess she helps New Yorkers get down to earth with a range of home composting strategies and delightful eco-taining events. Her new guide is Compost City: Practical Composting Know-How for Small Space Living!


RESOURCES:

Bloomberg Plan Aims to Require Food Composting
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/17/nyregion/bloombergs-final-recycling-frontier-food-waste.html?pagewanted=all&_r=2

Why Compost? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/food-politic/why-compost_b_3567964.html

Composting At Home, 
http://www2.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home

Make Fertilizer Faster By Building The Ultimate Compost Bin
http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/make-fertilizer-faster-building-ultimate-compost-bin


Local Eats Project

Today is National Food Day! Hooray! In honor of this day, I’m launching a new project, the Local Eats Project.

Recently I learned that less than 1% of all food purchased in the U.S. comes from famers markets. I want to boost that number! This is the BEST quality food available and too many people are missing out. Food from farmers markets is far more nutritious – for our bodies, our minds, our wallets, our environment, our economies and our consciousness.

The Local Eats Project works like this: Once per month I will cook one meal made from 100% local foods, including fat/oil and as many fresh herbs and spices too.

I will share the recipe here on Sparkle Kitchen to keep me accountable and to show how simple it is to create a fabulous meal from seasonal ingredients.

These are the ground rules:

  • Cook one meal per month using only local, seasonal ingredients. 
  • Support local farmers by purchasing directly from them at famers markets.
  • Only use vegetables, meats, eggs, and fruits sold at local farmers market.
  • Salt, spices and fat/oil are the exception and can be purchased elsewhere. (Bonus points if these are local too, like lard, suet and schmaltz.)
  • Share it! Post the recipe, photos and cost of your meal on your website or any social media site and share the love of local food. #localeatsproject

That’s it!

Are you up for the challenge? 

Click here for all the Local Eats Project recipes.

AND if you need more convincing for why to eat and buy local, read my article here.

Local Eats Project