Back in June, I wrote a post titled This Pretty Much Explains What Went Wrong. The post featured a Wall Street Journal report about how the FDA is still considering whether to change its definitions of healthy and unhealthy foods. Under the current definitions, an avocado is an unhealthy food, while Frosted Flakes are good for you because they’re low in fat. That’s the kind of advice that turned us into a nation of fat diabetics.
I recently found another example of what went wrong on one of our bookshelves. When we bought this place, we told the previous owner to just leave anything she didn’t want to move and we’d deal with it. We’ve since re-purposed a lot of old farm gear she left behind.
She also left behind quite a few books. Don’t know why I didn’t spot it before, but one of the books is titled Great Health Hints & Handy Tips, published by Reader’s Digest in 1994. It’s full of the usual drivel — and I don’t mean that as a knock against Reader’s Digest. I wrote for a small health magazine in 1980s, and we offered the same kind of advice. Back in those days, anti-fat hysteria was in full swing, and diet and health information passed through a small number of gatekeepers. Fortunately, the internet enabled the Wisdom of Crowds to crowd out such nonsense.
Anyway, here are some quotes from the chapter on nutrition:
Does it ever seem like everything you thought you knew about food has been disproved? Information we learned in school on avoiding starches and eating plenty of red meat has been reversed. We’ve found that other old favorites, like whole milk and cheese, should be limited.
Ugh. If only that information we used to learn in school hadn’t been reversed. Look at what’s happened since we decided we knew better than all those previous generations about what constitutes a healthy diet.
We now know that carbohydrates should form the largest part of your diet, approximately 55 to 60 percent, and that you should hold the quantity of protein to about 15 percent of calories.
And that’s how pasta-makers became a must-have in fashionable kitchens. Load up on those healthy carbs, people, and cut way back on meat!
To avoid raising their blood cholesterol, most people have to follow two dietary rules: limit both high-cholesterol foods and those containing saturated fat.
Can you say Egg Beaters and margarine?
There is, of course, a color picture of the Food Pyramid, with this text on the opposite page:
The Food Guide Pyramid was created to illustrate not just food categories, but the correct proportions for a healthy diet. Bread and cereals form the large base, followed by fruits and vegetables.
And a lot of us ended up with a large base by following the Food Pyramid.
Limit the amount of fat in your breakfast. When eating pancakes, waffles or toast, restrict the butter or margarine to one teaspoon or skip it entirely. For a topping, try a fruit spread or apple butter.
Right. Because when you’re loading up on grains for breakfast, nothing enhances the metabolic effects quite like putting sugar on top.
Rather than a doughnut or sweet roll, eat an English muffin or a bagel.
That reminds of a commercial from back in the day: the announcer says something like Now that we’ve learned a bowl of grains in the morning is good for your health, why not try this? Then a bagel drops into a cereal bowl. The book would apparently agree:
Bagels, which are low in fat, aren’t just for breakfast. Top them with low-fat cottage cheese or salmon or tuna salad.
Bagels in the morning, bagels in the evening, bagels at suppertime. Yup, that will help you eat the 6-11 servings of grains per day the USDA assured us was the key to good health.
Here are some tips for lunch on the go:
Sandwiches made at delis, diners and other eateries are often overstuffed with meat. Ask for yours to be prepared with less mean than usual, or else remove some of the meat.
Think twice before ordering a diet platter if it includes a hamburger patty, hard-boiled egg and cottage cheese made from whole milk. This high-fat meal is no calorie bargain.
And here’s some advice for packing your kid’s lunch:
If your son or daughter won’t eat vegetables for lunch, send extra fruit.
Pack 1 percent chocolate milk mixed at home instead of having your child buy 2 percent chocolate milk (which contains more fat) at school.
Obviously, this was written before the USDA decided to ban anything other than skim or 1% milk in schools.
Offer grains rather than white bread. Quick breads, such as banana-oatmeal bread, pita wedges and low-fat crackers may also be good alternatives.
So there you have it. Eat your grains – with fruit topping! – and cut way back on meat, eggs, whole milk, and anything containing cholesterol or saturated fat.
That’s what we were all told, and that’s the advice most of us tried to follow. That’s how I ended up eating bowls of pasta with low-fat sauce as the main course for dinner.
And that’s how we became a nation of fat diabetics.