USDA: Proud Sponsors of Nutrient Deficiency

**Note: I’m having some unexplained trouble with the science-y links. So here they are:
Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword;
The Nutritional Characteristics of a Contemporary Diet Based Upon Paleolithic Food Groups.

In putting together the materials for my recent nutrition workshop, I intended to make a side-by-side comparison of the nutrient content of the USDA recommendations vs. a well-composed “Paleo” meal plan. I’d read Cordain’s published research** on a Paleo-style diet for nutrient density AND heard the Paleo chatter about the USDA falling short of its own health goals, but I wanted to chart out these principles for myself. My evaluation would be concise, obvious, user-friendly and – most importantly – utterly convincing.

My comparison would be enough to convince even the most stubborn My Pyramid-er that a grain-free diet based on meats, vegetables, healthy fats and some delicious fruits & nuts was vastly superior to a diet composed of…whatever agricultural-industry-preserving junk the USDA wants us to eat. Lest we forget, the USDA’s primary mission is to support agriculture. Their recommendations for a “healthy” diet are based mostly on grains and low-fat dairy. (I’m sensing a profound conflict of interest.) A science-y paper on Cereal Grains here.**

I was incredibly disappointed to discover that the USDA’s dietary recommendations are actually quite adequate when it comes to meeting the RDI of nutrients & minerals, even when compared to a standard Paleo-style diet (although the addition of traditional foods like bone broths, organ meats, and fermented Cod Liver Oil could change that significantly). So my plan – for all intents and purposes – bit the dust.

I had a crisis of faith. I began questioning everything. I ran through the local supermarket nude, screaming “Who Am I?” at the top of my lungs.

Not really. The thing is, the USDA recommends a pretty decent heaping of fruits & veggies that fulfills most RDI for vitamins. (Not that the RDI is the consummate measure of a nutrient-dense diet…but, ya know…meh.) They recommend lots of grains, which come packaged with a few recommended (READ: SUPPLEMENTED) minerals.

Beyond that, I feel compelled to point out that the USDA diet is a disaster when it comes to hormone balance, compliance, satiety and gut health. But everybody knows this. Except, of course, for the USDA. And everybody else in the free world.

But even if nutrient DENSITY wasn’t a problem (which – let’s be honest – it still is), nutrient AVAILABILITY is a huge concern. What we put in our mouths doesn’t mean squat if our bodies can’t make effective use of it. (You can’t see me, but I just screamed that from a mountaintop.)

First off, vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble. When you’re eating low-fat – with what little fat you consume being from “discretionary oils” – you’re eating hardly any fat-soluble vitamins.

“No problem,” says the government. “We know deficiencies in these vitamins can cause a plethora of health problems, so we’ll simply SUPPLEMENT things like low-fat milk with synthetic vitamin D from irradiated mushrooms! Problem solved!”*

*(Not a direct quote)

The fact remains, though, that a diet low in nutrient-dense fat AND fat-soluble vitamins means (duh) you’re not getting your fat-soluble vitamins. Even the artificially-Vitamin-D-fortified low-fat dairy the USDA loves so much is worthless in a low-fat diet. Beyond that, low-fat (grain-fed) milk is low in all the vitamins that milk could be of use for in the first place – A, D, and K.

Milk is for calcium, though, right?

"How can we preach low-fat without jeopardizing the dairy industry? Great Scott - we'll strip the natural fats out! This Frankenmilk is going to change the world! To the Delorian!"

The USDA recommends a diet high in calcium but woefully LOW in co-factors like vitamin K2 that cause us to retain and utilize the calcium we consume. Ever wonder why Americans take in so much calcium but still suffer extreme bone demineralization? To my next point…

When you take in large volumes of “Whole Grains” in the form of breads, cereals and brown rice as recommended by the USDA, you may be taking in plenty of minerals, but you’re not making effective use of them. Phytic acid may make it very difficult.

Phytic acid – present in the hulls (the “Whole grain” part of Whole grains) and the “Brown” part of Brown rice – may literally bind to minerals like iron, magnesium, and calcium and prevent their absorption by the body. Do I need to explain further? The minerals you’re eating likely aren’t being fully absorbed. This goes for you, your kids, your babies, and your pets (check your pet food – does it include grains?) This is called “inefficiency,” and it’s becoming the legacy of our society.

Phytic acid is one of several types of anti-nutrients. Lectins are another. They’re found in high concentrations in soy, a uniformly terrible substance in its modern incarnations (Good read: The Whole Soy Story) which was intended for industrial products and conveniently beaten into food-science submission. Lectins are also present in beans.

Whether you read further or not, let me repeat: The grain-based minerals you’re eating likely aren’t being absorbed. This goes for you, your kids, your babies, and your pets. Mineral. Deficient. Babies.

So, for my presentation, I chose a new approach based on the very real problems inherent in the USDA recommendations.

By going to the USDA website, you can input your information and generate a meal plan based on your individual “needs.” Here’s what I got based on my input, along with the potential concerns. (Note: “artificial oils” should read “processed oils.” Or “crappy vegetable-oil-industry garbage.”)

I follow up with recommendations to resolve the deficiencies while still maintaining a decent intake of protein, fat and carbohydrate with approximately the same number of calories. The best part? The nutrient density and retention is high and the glycemic index is ridiculously low compared to the USDA recommendations. To phrase this professionally: the USDA can suck it.

Since we’re savvy Paleologists and we understand that fat is NOT to be feared if consumed from biologically appropriate sources like grass-fed meats, ghee, avocados, olives, and coconut oil; and because we know that insoluble fiber from “Whole Grains” is gut-irritating while soluble fiber from vegetables and fruits is gut-repairing, I rest my recommendations confidently on the ideas I present next:

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13 Responses to “USDA: Proud Sponsors of Nutrient Deficiency”

  1. This was so awesome!! When you get the handout, let me know. I’d love to bring it to my CF coach.

  2. very informative and helpful.

  3. Impressive blog! Great information on fat. I just did two articles for the newspaper that I am a food editor for on fat and the myth busting on it. It was a challenge to put it lightly! I really enjoyed reading this post. Thank you. I’m adding you to my blog roll.

  4. A-mazing post, Liz!! Super clear & extremely well put in layman’s terms – even my vegetarian sister may FINALLY get it (I know, I cry about it everyday. At least I successfully strayed her away from grains!).

  5. Great charts! Thank you for sharing this wonderful info!

  6. You da bomb, Liz! I’ll be sharing this with FitWit and via my FB/Twitter names.

  7. Great article. I did a similar exercise on my blog a little while back. While you can meet the RDA using the food pyramid or plate or whatever it is called it is extremely inefficient to do so. If you take a look at the back of loaf of bread or pasta and pick out the vitamins/minerals that you are getting and look them up in a standard food database you will usually find that they are pretty far down the list of good sources for that vitamin/mineral. You also have to consume a lot (calorie-wise) to get a decent enough serving to make it worth it. Calorie-for-calorie grains are a pretty sparse source of most vitamins & minerals.

    The only one where that is not true seem to be calcium, in which dairy is the best source. I find some dairy to be ok (fermented/full-fat/ pref non-pasteurized) but even if you can’t stomach it you can get it from other sources and will likely end up absorbing more to boot (for the reasons you mention).


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