We’ve known for a while that Big Food’s had its hands all over official dietary advice since there was official dietary advice to give.
But this story from Louise Stephen’s new book Eating Ourselves Sick really brings the message home…
Luise Light’s story.
Nutritional expert Luise Light was teaching at New York University in the late 1970s when she was approached by the United States Department of Agriculture to develop a revised set of food guidelines.
She’d been warned that ‘heavy hitters’ from the food industry would be monitoring her activities, while the agriculture industry lobbyists had already made their presence known.
Undaunted, Luise pressed ahead and devised a plan based upon studies of health problems related to foods and nutrition. In what was essentially the earliest incarnation of the famous food pyramid, Luise’s guide included:
- 5–9 serves of fruit and vegetables as a foundation.
- 2–3 serves of dairy.
- 140–200g protein such as red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts or beans.
- 2–3 servings of whole grains.
- 60mL of ‘good fats’ such as olive oil.
- No more than 10 per cent of calories from sugar and no more than 20 per cent of calories from fats.
Luise submitted the guide for review, but could scarcely have imagined the chain of events that was about to unfold. An amended version was returned to Luise, with:
- 6–11 serves of grains (the prefix ‘whole’ had been omitted, giving people the green light to eat refined grains).
- 3–4 serves of dairy.
- 2–3 serves of protein.
- 2–3 serves of vegetables.
- Fats, oils and sweets suggested in vague terms to be ‘used moderately’.
On the brink of an epidemic.
Alarmed at such a breathtaking distortion of her guide, Luise informed her supervisor that the changes would create an epidemic of obesity, [type-2] diabetes and other diseases.
But the alterations stayed. In addition, the serving sizes were incorporated into the USDA’s food stamps program, the school breakfast and lunch program and any other feeding programs coordinated by the USDA.
Congress ensured the serving sizes made it into legislation, meaning it would be against the law to fail to serve such quantities – a godsend for the merchants of grain.
Luise’s predictions eventually came to pass.
In 1980, no U.S state had an obesity rate higher than 15 per cent. By 2014, obesity rates had risen to 29 per cent or higher in 29 U.S states. Today, every U.S state sits above 20 per cent.
Distrust in the ‘diet expert’.
The vested interests behind the various incarnations of the dietary guidelines have created a bewildering mess for the consumer.
It’s left us perplexed and increasingly deaf to the recommendations emanating from anybody [like the USDA] who calls themselves a ‘diet expert’.
You can find out more about Louise Stephen’s stance on dietary advice and Big Food in her book Eating Ourselves Sick.