The system is broken...
According to the United States government, 59% of people adhere to USDA dietary guidelines. Also according to the United States government, 74% of people are overweight or obese and have a litany of symptoms associated with their significant lack of metabolic health.
The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) claims to be the consummate authority when it comes to the quality, quantity, and nutritional value of the things you put in your mouth, chew, swallow, and digest. Let’s set aside that on their website this is their 3rd stated priority behind advancing racial justice and combating climate change (more on climate science at a later date), and focus exclusively on their dietary guidelines.
The USDA claims that a good majority (59%) of Americans follow their dietary guidelines. By this measure, it seems that 41% (or less) of Americans risk unhealth from dietary issues such as obesity, hypertension, heart problems, diabetes, etc. But… the very same USDA says that 74% of Americans are overweight or obese, 45% have high blood pressure, that heart disease is the leading cause of death, and that a third of Americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes. Oh, and 90% of Americans are deficient in at least 5 vitamins and minerals. It does not take a mathematician to understand that these dietary guidelines are either a) not followed at a 59% clip or b) THEY DON’T WORK.
We’re going with b.
Let’s break it down, starting with the things they say you should eat, followed by the things they claim you shouldn’t eat.
Things the USDA says you should eat:
- The thing that the USDA says you should consume in the most abundance is vegetables. Now, we’re not suggesting that you never consume vegetables as we do believe that certain vegetables have medicinal benefits when consumed in extreme moderation. However, it certainly is not a fantastic idea to prioritize foods with inflammatory properties as well as phytates, oxalates, goitrogens, and other anti-nutrients that inhibit the absorption of iron, Vitamins, B12, A, D, E, and K. These foods also lack Omega 3 fatty acids, DHA in particular, which serve a veritable plethora of only the most critical functions, including very important brain and immune functions. We talk about this at length in our piece about the importance of Omega 3s and in another about the perils of a vegan diet when it comes to mental health.
- Fruit. We’re not going to argue with this one, especially if you’re focusing first and foremost on nutrient-dense, high protein, high fat, meat and organs. That’d make fruit, a nutrient dense category with little in the way of defense chemicals, difficult to overeat due to the satiety that goes along with prioritizing animal foods. Even a broken clock is right twice a day and we’ll give the USDA a pass on this one… sort of. Yes on fruit, no on the level of prioritization. Dr. Paul Saladino gets in depth when it comes to the benefits of fruit on an otherwise carnivore diet. Find his books and podcasts here.
- Grains. This one is highly problematic in our estimation. Aside from being very easy to overeat as there is absolutely an addictive probability in the consumption of refined grains especially (see Jayne Buxton’s book The Great Plant Based Con for an in-depth look at grains and addiction), grains are a prime suspect when it comes to the overfed, yet undernourished American populace. Some people have an extreme sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other grains, and these people obviously shouldn’t consume them in any quantity. We believe, however, that those who do tolerate grains still should avoid them. Just because you can tolerate something doesn’t mean you should. A lot of people can tolerate all sorts of things they certainly should avoid. Let’s throw grains into that category. Why? Because grains cause malabsorption of nutrients. In our intestines we have villi. Villi are fingerlike protrusions that serve the function of moving fibrous foods through the intestines. They also serve to increase surface area to aid in absorption of vitamins and minerals. Gluten shrinks these villi, both hindering the speed of digestion and the absorption of vitamins and minerals, rendering them far less bioavailable, which would already be severely stunted by consuming vegetables in the recommended quantities.
- Dairy, including fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, and/or lactose-free versions and fortified soy beverages and yogurt as alternatives: At The Fittest, some of us do consume dairy, typically raw dairy, however, we DO NOT agree with this USDA guideline for a few reasons.
- Let’s begin with the idea that dairy, including milk, yogurt, and cheese, ought to be low-fat or fat free. The USDA, based on outdated, flawed epidemiological studies from literally 100 years ago, recommends a low intake of saturated animal fat due to an increased risk for heart disease… except we know, and have known for quite some time, that this just isn’t true. Dietary intake of saturated fat and cholesterol (very necessary for proper hormone balance and general immunity) does not raise blood cholesterol. Some studies, like this one, show that the opposite may be true. Further, the jury is still out as to whether blood cholesterol levels are a good indicator regarding heart health. In fact, the overwhelming majority of people admitted to hospitals for cardiac events have normal cholesterol levels. There is, however, a much larger correlation between metabolic issues and heart events.
- The reason we don’t like the low-fat or fat free options isn’t exclusively related to this, though. We don’t like it because fat is very necessary in the uptake of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. We’re not afraid of fat.
- Next comes the suggestion that if one does not tolerate dairy that soy is an alternative. Being that soy is not dairy at all, we’re perplexed as to why this is even mentioned, but since it is, let’s tackle it. Put plainly, soy is terrible. Like, really, really terrible. Soy contains high concentrations of isoflavones, which are a phytoestrogen that binds to estrogen receptors, causing all sorts of hormone regulation and thyroid issues, especially in men. So let’s say no to soy.
- Protein foods, including lean meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products… First and foremost, the biggest issue we take is that protein is number 5 on the priority list when it absolutely should be number 1, and there is no close 2nd. Without adequate protein, so many of the body’s functions will be performed at a subpar level, from maintaining healthy body composition to immune system responses to threats, to brain recovery, to sleep. Let’s dive further into this one as not all protein is created equal.
- Lean meats. The idea that meat ought to be lean goes back to the whole cholesterol, saturated fat, heart disease hypothesis we already know has been debunked. In order to get adequate absorption of critical fat soluble vitamins, we need fat, so let’s throw the whole lean thing out of the equation. Aside from that, we agree with the USDA that meat ought to be the primary source of protein as the only place to get brain-critical nutrients like choline, creatine, and carnitine is from animal sources.
- Poultry. This one is tricky because, unlike ruminant meat which can easily be found in grass-fed, grass-finished varieties, it is difficult to find poultry that hasn’t been shot up with antibiotics and exogenous hormones. It's difficult to find poultry that isn't fed corn and soy, which drastically changes the Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio and effect hormone balance, respectively. IF you can find quality poultry then go for it, but prioritize ruminants.
- Eggs. Now we’re talking. Again make sure the eggs come from poultry of a certain quality, but if you can find said eggs, there are few foods better than eggs when it comes to vitamin B12, protein, quality fat, and dietary cholesterol. This is necessary for synthesis of vitamin D, hormone regulation, and a whole host of other important functions.
- Seafood. In principle we are ok with seafood, however the source matters. Smaller, wild caught, cold water fish are going to be excellent choices as they’re more likely to be free from any number of contaminants. Warm water fish, however, may not be of the same quality. This study revealed that bonefish caught in Miami waters had an average of 17 pharmaceuticals in their system. Aside from fish... mussels, oysters, lobster, and crabs are all nutrient-dense sources of protein and Omega 3s.
- Beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products: As we’ve discussed in other articles, protein from plant sources lacks critical nutrients (B12, choline, creatine, carnosine, carnitine, etc.) and you’d have to eat far more in volume in order to get equivalent protein of animal foods. Add to that the aforementioned antinutrients that prevent nutrient absorption and protein hydrolysis and these are inadequate at best and damaging at worst.
- Oils, including vegetable oils and oils in food, such as seafood and nuts. Let’s separate these and get into each one.
Missing from this list are only the most nutrient dense foods on the planet: organs such as liver. Get some.
The things the USDA says you ought not consume:
- Added sugars. For sure. This is a no brainer no matter what your food philosophy is. Added sugars are terrible and everyone knows this. No need to get wordy here.
- Saturated fats. This goes back to the flawed logic that dietary saturated fat is somehow correlated with an increased risk of heart conditions. We previously discussed this above. It’s just not so. Right below quality animal protein on the priority list should be saturated fats from animals. It is our most efficient energy source. It’s required for delivery of key nutrients to our brain and fat cells. Staying away from this is not something we recommend. At all.
- Sodium. Sodium has been incorrectly vilified and named as a leading cause of strokes, hypertension and a litany of other maladies when it’s a very necessary electrolyte that is critical for water retention and balance and needed for electrical cell activity. The idea that sodium is responsible for these things without underlying metabolic issues has been widely studied and debunked. If you’re getting adequate amounts of exercise and engage in sweating in routine fashion, sodium ought to be generously consumed.
- Alcohol… Just like added sugar, we all know alcohol is bad for you. It causes all sorts of problems from hormone production deficiencies to poor sleep to dad bods. Don’t consume it. Andrew Huberman is a wealth of knowledge on the subject. Check him out.
We just don't agree.
Aside from no brainers like added sugar and alcohol, we don’t see eye to eye AT ALL with the USDA’s dietary recommendations that will send you into a downward spiral of metabolic health issues that will have you in the doctor’s office collecting a pile of prescriptions. What’s worse is that states like California have recently criminalized the recommendation by doctors any diet that contradicts government guidelines. That means even healthcare providers that know better cannot recommend a healthy nose to tail diet lest they be criminally charged. That is a scary proposition and is an indicator that you must educate yourself and be your own advocate for a healthier, more DOMINANT you.
We can help.
For information on how to eat a nose-to-tail diet, email our performance experts who do not follow the USDA dietary guidelines.