Many emotions rush through me when I look at the food pyramid (spoiler: not happy emotions). The way it has been broken down depicts a dietary lifestyle that has proven to get us into a lot of trouble. It promotes what we call in holistic health as the SAD – the Standard American Diet. Sad…Fitting acronym, no?
The Standard American Diet is high in processed and refined foods which make up the base of the pyramid. Long story short: it is full of white flour and it is full of dairy. Those two foods are presented as crucial to our survival when in reality they are the cause of SO many preventable diseases. Type 2 Diabetes, IBS, Colitis, Metabolic disorders, osteoporosis just to name a few. Even food intolerances and allergies have been linked to ADHD-like behavior, depression and chronic fatigue. SO! to re-cap: refined flour and processed dairy are portrayed as essential while vegetables and fruits are casually thrown on top, and least importantly in the tiny corner: fat.
Nobody puts baby in a corner.
As we’ve discussed in sections one and two of “Fats are Your Friend”, healthy fats play a critical role in many body processes – it helps us stay full for longer, eating it helps us burn our own fat as energy instead of storing it, it helps us feel alert, awake and does incredible things for our brain function and development. These are just a few of the roles it plays – these are the ones you see. What we don’t see is even more fascinating – we don’t see how fat makes up our cell membranes and therefore dictates how we burn energy, eliminate waste and circulate water. We don’t see how healthy fats fight inflammation – both bloating and inflammatory diseases (Crohns, Colitis, Osteoarthritis, endometriosis are just a few of these.) We don’t see how fat coats our entire nervous system in a protective layer. This helps the information highway of our bodies to remain intact and functioning. Finally, although we can’t see it, fat is what helped make our tiny lil brains in the womb develop into the healthy thinkin’ machines that we know and love.
Let’s take a look at the food pyramid, shall we?
So many things to say. So many problems. Where to begin?
Why must they write “USE SPARINGLY” in capital letters on every version of this thing?
We get it. According to them, fat is not important. In fact, it barely got a spot. They squeezed it in at the top amongst sweets. Why must they again remind us to use it sparingly? No one is going to look at this food pyramid and think that it’s okay to go home and chug a cup of olive oil. Give the reader a little more credit here! Fat is already the SMALLEST section. We get that they don’t want it to be a big part of our diets. Stress it a little more I dare you.
It’s enough to have incorrect information, it’s another to demonize the food as a whole. In writing, “USE SPARINGLY” they basically stamp a big red DANGER sign on fat’s forehead.
Think about all the kids who grow up looking to this as the be-all-end-all of health (myself included!) We were taught from a very young age that fat was BAD and that we should use VERY LITTLE in order to stay healthy. The “use sparingly” header is something I remember being stressed to me as a 6-year-old in grade school. This misconception that fat makes you fat was pushed down our throats until we internalized it in our hearts. But what happened when we listened?
We got low fat products. Millions of them. In bright pretty packaging with heart-healthy! stickers. Promoted by dietitians, promoted by doctors, promoted by schools as “the healthy alternative”. And them bam. The obesity epidemic hit.
Is it a coincidence that the spike in low fat products coincides with the spike in obesity? Absolutely not.
But what happened here? The fat went down and the sugar went up.
Let’s look at a product to illustrate this – Packaged salad dressing:
The salad dressing in question originally consisted of olive oil, lemon, grainy mustard and salt. You have good fat, you have anti-inflammatory and detoxifying lemon, you have mineral-rich mustard and sea salt. Throw that on some leafy greens and you’ve got everything you need.
But the food pyramid says fat is “bad” so naturally the company had to adapt (like so many others) because their product was no longer supported by the booming food industry. What happens when you take out the fat? You take out the flavour. You take out the depth. You take out about 50% of why the dressing was healthy in the first place.
What do food companies do when processed things taste bad? They add sugar.
Therefore, the same industry that is promoting the sparing use of fats and sugars is taking all the good fat out of their products and replacing it with insane amounts of unnecessary sugar
The point is – obsessing over how much fat we eat is useless if we are eating healthy fats. Fat makes things higher in calories, yes. But where has counting calories gotten us? Obesity is growing, eating disorders are on the rise, obsessive behaviour that comes with counting calories adds more stress to our already stressful lives.
Counting calories and limiting fat is not nearly as important as counting NUTRIENTS. I urge you to stop obsessing over how much fat you’re eating and start fuelling your body with the nutrients it needs. We have seen in PART ONE and PART TWO of this series just how many incredible roles fat plays in our bodies and I think it’s important to appreciate those! It is crucial to our brain function, moods, and energy – these are the things we should be celebrating and teaching the younger generation.