By: Clifford Sonnie, M.D., M.P.H.
Anyone who knows me knows I don’t like diets. Unfortunately, too many people do. They want to be told when to eat, what to eat, how much to eat, etc. Well, that means following a very rigid menu and to me that is very difficult to do. Regardless, I often wonder what all these diets are based upon. Unfortunately, it is our friend, the food pyramid.
For almost two decades we have based our menus upon the food pyramid. Google this up and it will show you how much of your diet should be proteins, how much fat, etcetera. Problem is that this same diet is the basis for most school and home diet menus. The result? Diabetes, obesity, heart disease and every other thing you can think has gone through the roof. Several years ago, the government revised it. Great! But, when you look at it, all they’ve done is turn it on its side. Nothing was changed except for a couple new categories. Why? Business. Who do you think has the ear of those who make the pyramid (the US Department of Agriculture)? If the pyramid says that certain foods are really not that good for you, that certain food industry (who does contribute campaign funds) will take a hit.
Eating well doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need a PhD in calorie counting. All you need is common sense. There are four basic food groups:
Contained in all four are the sources of calories and fuel for the body namely proteins, carbohydrates and fats. The debate is what percentage of proteins, carbs and fats we should eat. First the percentage of each is easy. One third of your calorie intake should be from each source. You want to lose weight or you are a diabetic, decrease the carbs and increase the proteins and fats equally. Simple, but that’s not the whole story. The key for me is the word “essential”. Essential nutrients are those nutrients that the body needs to live but does not make. Well gang, there are essential fats and 8 essential amino acids (from which all protein is made) but there are no essential carbohydrates. So even though no one will do this because God forbid it is not palatable, we can live without carbs. In fact, eliminate carbs and we can take a serious bite out of diabetes. Now, look at the food pyramid and it does not even come close to what I just said. I’ll let you decide for yourself.
Before I go on, I fear that I’ve angered the vegetarians. I only state that I think animal foods are the best source of all essential fats and amino acids. It is more difficult to acquire all essential nutrients on a vegetarian diet. It’s not impossible, just more difficult. Let’s at least agree to disagree.
People eat too many unhealthy foods. To fix this many practitioners will suggest or sell patients diets. Literally all these diets require supplements. I have no problem with this. I do the same thing. The difference comes with not only how long you have to take the supplements but also upon what your recommended diet is based. Hopefully it’s not the USDA pyramid. As far as supplements I look at it as filling the tank back up then using the diet to keep it there. People and practitioners unfortunately use the “convenience of pills” as a substitute for diet. It doesn’t matter whether the supplement is whole food, half food, green food, weird food or whatever, the best way to maintain health is a good diet.
Is there a happy medium? Well, even I take supplements every day. I’ve talked about Vitamin D and oils in the past and I do take them. I also take probiotics (the good bacteria). I’ve suggested that many of my patients take other supplements for specific conditions. And yes, even I and my patients find it easier to grab a quick bite and down some supplements to compensate for a poor diet that day. It’s a crutch we all use. Not an excuse, just a crutch.
The bottom line is, in order to maintain good health, stick to the four food groups. No processed foods, no sugary drinks, no carb heavy concoctions, no artificial low fat or fake junk food. Ignore the food pyramid. Even if you turn it upside down, as some high protein low carb diets will suggest, it still comes up short. This means you have to shop. You have to read labels. You have to think about what you are buying. If the goal is weight loss as well as good health, then you are going to have to also remember that what goes in must come out (I mean must be burned off). Like my dad said, close the pie hole and mobilize the butt. Remember too, before you embark on any diet change, no matter how good for you, I recommend that you check first with your family MD or DO or make an appointment with us and I will be happy to sit and talk with you. As always, a smart health care consumer is informed and aware.
Clifford Sonnie, M.D., M.P.H. is a physician at the Balance if Life Clinic