Is the U.S. government putting our entire nation on a calorie-restricted diet, whether we need it or not? It would seem so, as ChooseMyPlate.gov is one of the most calorie-conscious websites in cyberspace.
Take the downloadable consumer brochure on ChooseMyPlate.gov: the message is introduced via the subtitle, “Build a Healthy Plate,” claiming that “low-fat dairy products and lean protein foods contain the nutrients you need without too many calories.” It goes on to promote the calorie-vigilant mindset with a segment called “Cut Back on Foods High in Solid Fats” (because they contain extra calories, it explains) followed by “Eat the Right Amount of Calories” (did you know we all have a “personal calorie limit”?), and finally wraps up with a section encouraging physical activity presumably for the express purpose burning calories.
Just an aside, if the USDA’s office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion is tasked with giving dietary advice, fine; but what is the meaning of including exercise in the brochure? Running, jogging, walking and other athletic endeavors do require fuel from our nutrition, but such counsel is clearly beyond the USDA mission. The Diet Dictocrats aim to manage not only our calories in, but our calories out as well.
The meta-message for the colorful, downloadable MyPlate brochure is that good health equals weight loss. Readers are finger-wagged: “Think before you eat; is it worth the calories?” They are forewarned about restaurant pleasures: “When eating out choose the lower calorie option.” They even receive advice to keep a food diary: “Write down what you eat to keep track of how much.”
SEARCHING OUT THE FATS
Let’s take a look at the fats on My Plate— if you can find them. Fats are scrubbed from the dairy section; the only foods allowed in the “Dairy Group” are those that “retain their calcium,” which excludes cream cheese, butter and cream. Can you imagine being kicked out of your rightful food group after thousands of years of serving humanity? And consider the insult of replacement by an outright imposter: soy milk with added calcium is deemed a full-fledged dairy food on My Plate!
We looked for fats in the “Protein” section of My Plate. “Go lean with protein” is the main consumer takeaway message on this page. Skinless chicken breasts and 95 percent lean ground beef are at the top of the hit parade, along with two servings of seafood a week. Fortunately, they haven’t yet invented a process to manufacture lowfat seafood.
What about the “Vegetables” on My Plate? Dr. Weston Price taught that fat is necessary for assimilating and metabolizing vitamins and minerals in the diet, which is why the Weston A. Price Foundation recommends always serving vegetables with a dollop of butter or cream. Yet the first benefit cited on My Plate for eating vegetables is that they are lowfat, low-calorie, and contain no cholesterol. Anticipating our human frailty, the Dictocrats admonish us that “sauces may add fat, calories or cholesterol.” Nevermind that sauces also make vegetables more flavorful and satisfying, not to mention more nutritious. And isn’t it much easier to persuade a child to eat those virtuous vegetables with a pat of butter melting over them?
After the low-in-fat praise for vegetables, their nutrient and health benefits follow in secondary importance, illustrating the official hierarchy of values: condemn fat first and then concede the nutrition content facts. Funny, the final reason presented on this page is, once again, that they are lower in calories per volume than other foods.
We found the same approach used on the “Fruits” page of My Plate and for the same low-calorie-content standards. Under a section on how to make fruit more appealing (as if fruits aren’t totally appealing already), lowfat or fat-free yogurt was suggested for dips and smoothies. Guess strawberries and cream are out of the question.
You’ve probably heard about the “sandwich” method of delivering bad news: you give good news first, then the bad stuff, and end with more good news. It seems that those dishing out My Plate information consider the best news about fruits and vegetables is that they contain very little fat. Does that make their vitamin and mineral content the bad news?
Sleuthing out the fats in the “Grains” segment on My Plate also proved difficult. Lots of grain-based foods are recommended, grains that are only palatable topped with butter: whole wheat bread, whole grain rice, whole grain pancakes, whole oats. The only mention of fats was in the negative. We learn that popcorn is a healthy snack, but only if served “with little or no salt and butter.” The thought of eating plain popcorn and all those dry grains makes you want to use extra butter and a sprinkling of fleur de sel sea salt on your next slice of sourdough! It gives you the sense that Fagin fed Oliver Twist and his orphan boys better than federal nutrition policymakers want us to feed our children.
USDA advises against both butter and lard as being unwanted and nutritionally void (sic) “solid fats.” We read nothing about the vital nutrition provided by these solid fats (A, D, E, K and the Wulzen factor), only warnings about them possibly increasing LDL-cholesterol levels, which “they” claim will lead to heart disease. Traditional, nature-made fats that have been with us for millennia are lumped in with modern manufactured trans fats as though they were equally dangerous.
Since there are nearly no fats allowed on My Plate, it may surprise you that vegetable oils merit their own webpage. These oils are lauded as containing vital nutrition from essential fatty acids. But oils rich in saturated fats like palm oil and coconut oil slide right off the page into the solid-fats waste bin.
FORBIDDEN SATURATED FATS
The lowfat message peppers every good group on MyPlate, while the food governors gush about liquid oils. We therefore decided to compare the “approved oils” versus the “forbidden fats,” contrasting their calorie count and saturated fat content.
First we looked at the recommended daily intake of oils on My Plate. Women ages thirty-one to fifty are recommended five teaspoons of liquid fats (plant oils) per day—men, you are allowed one more teaspoon. We are told these vegetable oils, like sunflower, soy, corn, canola, and safflower, “contain essential fatty acids and are the main source of vitamin E in the American diet.”
For comparison we used the Super Tracker Food Tracker App on the website which accesses a dazzling database of foods and food ingredients— except if you try to search for bacon grease, beef tallow, chicken fat or schmaltz you’ll come up with a goose egg; i.e., nothing.
A daily allotment of five teaspoons of canola oil registered 200 calories on the tracker. Canola oil contains two grams of saturated fat, and received a “zero empty calories rating.” The same amount of soy oil contains 199 calories, with four grams of saturated fat. Are you beginning to see why soy was eclipsed by canola as the healthy oil of choice? Soy has double the saturated fat of canola oil. Still, the tracker reported that soy oil also contains “zero empty calories.”
When we entered WAPF-preferred fats into the Super Tracker, it appears some “empty calories” count more than others. Lard (five teaspoons) is lower in calories than soy and canola oils, coming in at 193 calories and eight grams of saturated fat. The tracker declared that 173 of these calories are “empty calories.”
When we drill down by clicking on the Super Tracker’s “Nutrient Info” tab we learn something surprising about lard. Sixty percent of the fatty acids in lard are government-approved fats! Five teaspoons of lard contains ten grams of monounsaturated fat and two grams of polyunsaturated fat. So are the calories from these twelve grams of USDA-favored lipids guilty by association with the eight grams of saturated fat? According to USDA they become empty calories by residing in the same foodstuff.
Last, we entered five teaspoons of butter in the Super Tracker and found, surprise, it has the smallest calorie count of all: 179 calories and the highest saturated fat count of thirteen grams. The tracker posted 164 “empty calories” for this nutrient-dense food, even though, once again, butter contains both mono- and polyunsaturated fats. This time, we notice there is no government-prescribed target or limit for these favored fats.
These results didn’t exactly jibe with the “Solid Fats” page on ChooseMyPlate. gov, which says, “Solid fats and oils provide the same number of calories per gram.” And it isn’t clear why, by this inane bureaucratic logic, butter, with more grams of saturated fat, has fewer “empty calories” than lard which contains less saturated fat.
As a WAPF-educated consumer, what can you take away from all this? Butter, which is highest in saturated fat, is the lowest in calories. So why all the calorie consciousness if the “approved” canola oil is actually higher in calories than butter or lard?
My Plate might as well be a covered dish, for there is a total blackout on the bounty of valuable nutrition available to us from animal fats and tropical oils.
We will need to go offline and consult a WAPF source for that information. According to Mary Enig, in her book, Know Your Fats, pork fat (lard) is about forty percent saturated, fifty percent monounsaturated, and contains ten percent polyunsaturated fatty acids. What a coincidence: My Plate highly recommends fats that contain sixty percent monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Plus, lard is also one of our richest dietary sources of vitamin D.
Mary Enig also had this to say about butter: “It is definitely a fat with health potentiating properties. . . it is a source of antimicrobial fats, short chain fatty acids that inhibit growth of pathogenic fungi, and medium chain fatty acids that disable many pathogenic viruses and other organisms… glycolipids that have anti-infective properties, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) that has anti-carcinogenic properties.” Enig also reports grass-fed ruminant butter to have high levels of vitamin A, and that butter and real cream have healthful components not found in any other food.
Enig was a proponent of tropical oils such as palm and coconut. “Palm oil is one of the most important edible oils in the world,” she noted, and “coconut oil is an important source of nutrients. . . a source of lauric acid, which is important for infant formulas. . . where it plays a critical role.”
We must question the integrity of the USDA dietary guidelines. ChooseMyPlate.gov totally disregards numerous fats that are vital to human health.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2015