The 2015 Dietary Guidelines: Defining a Healthful Diet

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines have been released, and some supposedly significant changes, advised. Cholesterol intake is no longer limited. Saturated fat is to represent < 10% of daily caloric intake. Sustainability considerations are now to be considered. Simple sugars are anathema and caffeine is okay. Vegetables and fruits remain highly emphasized. Has much changed? Not really. Most of us in Cardiology and Lipidology dropped the cholesterol ban a decade ago. We typically emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables, low fat meat that is organic and devoid of antibiotics, and a limitation of simple sugar. Most of us don’t consider sustainability issues when advising our individual patients. Many of us believe that world issues – including economics – should stay out of the exam room and remain in the courtroom. (I am a member of that camp). But what is the layperson to do with these Guidelines? Does he or she have to make dramatic changes in his or her diet? The answer of course depends upon the individual patient’s status. Is weight loss necessary; does the patient have cardiovascular disease or very high LDL cholesterol, for instance? Let’s first look at the history of man, briefly examine the state of dietary literature, and then make some generalizations.

Anthropology unequivocally demonstrates that human beings are omnivores. In fact, all of our primate relatives also rely upon meat in the wild. They even need it in captivity. When the Washington DC Zoo attempted to breed the Amazon Golden Marmoset monkey, they failed miserably. It was not until meat was added to their diet that the monkeys begin to thrive and reproduce. Since the beginning of our tour on earth we have also eaten meat. In fact, for the first 4 million years of our existence, meat was our main source of nourishment. About 10,000 years ago we introduced farming and animal husbandry. Most farming was done to feed our animals as they represented our most desirable food source. Recently we have fallen prey to our own impact on nourishment – we have started processing, and ruining, our food. Sugar has been added; nutrients have been stripped from grains; grains are squeezed (instead of eaten whole) to produce oils; and animals have been raised in pens, limiting their ability to develop lean muscle mass, and also often requiring the introduction of antibiotics. We have created a food supply that is most likely killing us.

In response to our understanding of the role cholesterol plays in heart disease – and it does play a significant one – we have introduced guidelines to try to reduce cholesterol. Saturated fat eaten to excess does raise LDL (not a good thing), but cholesterol consumption has little impact on our LDL levels. Therefore the current Guidelines did what was appropriate and removed restrictions on cholesterol consumption while maintaining limitations on saturated fat. They also appropriately implore us to eschew sugar. No one will argue against the latter recommendation (except perhaps the sugar industry). But are there studies to support such advice? Unfortunately, beyond PrediMed (which demonstrated the cardiovascular advantage of a Mediterranean diet) no high level studies have been performed. Many observational studies exist, but doing a solid dietary trial is actually immensely difficult. Thus we are left to rely upon our understanding of basic science, animal experiments, pathophysiology, and anthropology. The conclusion for most of us I believe follows Aristotle’s ancient tenet of moderation. We should consume natural foods whenever possible, avoid processed foods, eat copious quantities of vegetables, consume ample fruit, and don’t worry so much about consuming lean meat, fatty fish, and some chicken as well. We should do this in the context of seeing our physicians, discussing our own personal issues, and modifying our diets to adjust to individual needs when indicated. Eating has become a complex endeavor, yet it ought to be much more straightforward. What we need though is access to the aforementioned natural food, the type of food that has been unscathed by human hands. And therein, unfortunately, lies the rub.

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3 Comments

  1. Brian Edwards March 2, 2015 at 1:31 pm #

    Isn’t blanket statement about saturated fats inaccurate as there are different types of saturated fat?

  2. Charles Grashow March 10, 2015 at 3:59 pm #

    “Saturated fat eaten to excess does raise LDL”

    Define excess.

  3. Brian Edwards March 30, 2015 at 9:36 pm #

    After studying your Interventional Prevention video,

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_vJdGHBxuY

    I was wondering if increased saturated fats are a risk factor, a risk marker or simply biomarker?

    On your slide 13 you list 6 elements needed in for a risk marker to be elevated to a risk factor.

    In http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3955571/ this Doctor writes that Trans fatty acids are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

    I was wondering what your opinion is? Risk factor status?

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