The food industry vs public health — Book Excerpt from The healthiest Diet on the Planet

The following excerpt is from Dr. McDougall’s latest book, The healthiest Diet on the Planet.


Damned lies harm the public and planet Earth. In June 2015, the Journal of the American Medical Association, in a reckless opinion piece, called for the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to remove an upper limit on the intake of total dietary fat in its most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015−2020.
1 To my dismay, the authors of this article also applauded the “elimination of dietary cholesterol as a ‘nutrient of concern.’” The facts behind the Journal’s article are deeply flawed and grossly and irresponsibly skewed in favor of the meat, poultry, dairy, fish, and egg industries, public enemies when it comes to our health. For most Americans, these animal-derived foods are the primary sources of cholesterol and fat. The next largest source of dietary fat is vegetable oil (such as canola, coconut, corn, flaxseed, olive, and safflower). Although the human body does require fat, especially during times of extreme food shortage, plants provide all of the essential fats we need. Removing an upper limit on fat intake promotes obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and common cancers (breast, colon, and prostate). Furthermore, regardless of its source, the fat you eat is the fat you wear. So-called good fat like olive oil is no more attractively worn around people’s waistlines than bad fat from lard.
Lying about our dietary needs is inexcusable. Rather than encouraging the consumption of animal products and vegetable oils, as the authors of this opinion piece suggest, the USDA and the DHHS need to classify these foods as toxic, and the federal government needs to regulate the production, marketing, and selling of these foods in the same way it regulates tobacco and alcohol. Seven decades of personal and professional experience have taught me that these foods will kill you, slowly and surely.

The Problem: “Improvements” in Our Diet
During most of human existence, the average life expectancy was an astonishing twenty-five years or less. To date, no prehistoric remains have been found of people older than fifty years.2 With few exceptions, war, accidents, starvation, or infection ended lives before any telltale signs of aging—graying of the hair, wrinkling of the skin, memory loss, a reduction of strength and loss of muscle mass, and decreased visual acuity—appeared. With the development of civilization, however, people learned to master their environment and to better protect themselves; with these advances some people survived to a ripe old age.
Passages from the Bible, written more than twenty-five hundred years ago, report that death from old age typically occurred between seventy and eighty (Psalm 90:10), while other passages predict a maximum life-span of 120 years (Genesis 6:3).
In the nineteenth century, the introduction of immunizations, better nutrition, proper sanitation, and possibly antibiotics resulted in an unprecedented boost in life-span. Life expectancy has increased since the beginning of the twentieth century from age forty-seven to the current seventy-nine years by effectively stopping infectious diseases that killed people from birth to young adulthood.
4 At the same time, nutrient-deficiency diseases that were once considered lifethreatening, like scurvy, beriberi, pellagra, and goiters, have been reduced through public nutritional advice focused on eating more fruits and vegetables (and secondarily on taking vitamin and mineral supplements).

The History of Average Life-Spans (in Years) [3]

Prehistoric Era 25
Classical Greece 28
Classical Rome 28
Medieval England 29
United States in 1800 37
United States in 1900 47
United States in 1950 68
United States in 2002 77
United States in 2016 79
Japan in 2002 82
All Adventists in 2002 85
Vegetarian Adventists 87

By the middle of the twentieth century, it seemed we were well on our way to enjoying a lifetime of sustainable good health and remarkable longevity. But it didn’t turn out that way. Not even close. Because chronic and degenerative diseases like obesity, heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and cancers quickly replaced nutritional deficiencies and infectious diseases as the predominant causes of disability and death in the country.
How did this happen? What changed? How did we go from achieving the healthiest and longest life-span in the history of humankind to suddenly becoming chronically sick and in constant danger of dropping dead before reaching our golden years?
The answer is simple—startlingly, maddeningly simple. The food industries got involved.

The Food Industries and the McGovern Report
Jumping on the national health bandwagon, the food industries started pushing meat, poultry, fish, and eggs as invaluable sources of protein, and dairy foods as essential for our calcium needs, which, both the meat and dairy industries claimed, were cornerstones of a healthy diet, even though protein and calcium deficiencies were nonexistent problems (except during starvation, and then all nutrients are deficient).
5 The meat and dairy industries were so successful at
hawking protein and calcium in the first half of the twentieth century that, by the 1960s, the average consumer was convinced—absolutely certain—that protein and calcium were the most vital of all nutrients for a healthy body and a long life, despite the absence of any scientific or nutritional research to support such a claim. In fact, the research at the time was beginning to link chronic and acute diseases with the excessive consumption of meat and dairy, specifically the outrageously high concentrations of saturated fat and cholesterol, and the absence of dietary fiber, essential vitamins and minerals, and other plant-derived nutrients. It is no accident that the death rate for coronary heart disease in the United States rose steadily during this period, reaching a peak in 1968 (238.5 people per 100,000 population).6
It was not uncommon for Americans during the
mid-twentieth century to die from heart attacks in their fifties and sixties.
At the same time, pockets of the country were suffering from hunger and malnutrition, most notably in the rural South, where emaciated children were testing positive for diseases that had only existed in underdeveloped countries.
Recognizing this downturn in America’s health, the U.S. Senate took formal action. Between 1968 and 1977, the Senate convened on numerous occasions its Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, which ultimately produced the country’s first Dietary Goals for the United States, then known as the McGovern Report, in recognition of George McGovern, the Democratic senator from South Dakota and chair of the committee.
7 These new guidelines on eating
were expected to have health-changing effects similar to the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, which helped reduce the prevalence of smoking cigarettes from 50 percent of the adult population in the 1970s to less than 20 percent today.8
Although it initially focused on hunger and malnutrition, the committee expanded its scope to include all aspects of nutrition, from eating too little to eating too much. In doing so, the committee took on obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain kinds of cancer. “There is a great deal of evidence and it continues to accumulate, which strongly implicates and, in some instances, proves that the major causes of death and disability in the United States are related to the diet we eat,” wrote Dr. D. Mark Hegsted, of the Harvard School of Public Health, in the McGovern Report. “I include coronary artery disease, which accounts for nearly half the deaths in the United States, several of the most important forms of cancer, hypertension, diabetes and obesity as well as other chronic diseases.”9
Through its findings, the committee urged the American public to cut back on fat, cholesterol, simple sugars, and refined and processed grains in favor of complex carbohydrates (which were once commonly known as starches), rich in dietary fiber. In lay terms, the committee told people to stop eating so much meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products and to start eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
“The question to be asked,” according to the McGovern Report, “is not why should we change our diet, but why not? What are the risks associated with eating less meat, less fat, less saturated fat, less cholesterol, less sugar, less salt, and more fruits, vegetables, unsaturated fat, and cereal products—especially whole-grain cereals? There are none that can be identified, and important benefits can be expected.”10
The McGovern Report set forth a clear plan for Americans to increase their intake of fruits; starches such as whole grains, legumes, and root vegetables; nonstarchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans; and leafy greens like kale and lettuce. In addition to salt and simple sugars, the report suggested Americans reduce saturated fats, most notably meat, poultry, milk, butter, and cheese. It also stressed the urgency to act: “Ischemic heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and hypertension are the diseases that kill us. They are epidemic in our population. We cannot afford to temporize. We have an obligation to inform the public of the current state of knowledge and to assist the public in making the correct food choices. To do less is to avoid our responsibility.”11
After 1968, death rates from heart disease decreased steadily, at an average rate of 3 percent per year, a direct result to the American public’s change in diet and the country’s seemingly mass smoking cessation.12
The truth was out, and I believed at that time that the United States and the world were on an unstoppable course to better health. Obviously, I was wrong, because the food industries went ballistic. Big Food was not going to repeat Big Tobacco’s fate. A few months after the release of the McGovern Report, the beef and dairy businesses pushed back at a second Senate hearing, which resulted in a watered-down version of the Dietary Goals, with less emphasis on reducing meat and dairy products. The American Medical Association (AMA) also protested the McGovern Report, because it said that providing this basic knowledge on what we should eat might interfere with the medical doctor’s right to prescribe, even though doctors then, as now, know essentially nothing about human nutrition.13
Even with this strong backlash from the industry, the effects of the McGovern Report were widespread and influential. In 1988, C. Everett Koop issued The Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health, which, in echoing the McGovern Report, recommended a major increase in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits in our diet and an economy-shifting reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy products. As a result, the consumption of meat, milk products, and eggs did fall, albeit temporarily.
But these industries continued to fight back with every means at their disposal, including hiring lobbyists; purchasing medical and nutrition experts; launching huge advertising campaigns; educating schoolteachers, dietitians, medical doctors, and scientists; holding conferences for these professionals with speakers who favored, in return for big dollars, their products; hiring top-notch public-relation firms; and funding nutrition research supporting their sickening and fattening foods. The industries today essentially own the scientific studies, the journals they are published in, and the media to advertise their products.
Their success can be measured by the U.S. food availability data, which documents an increase in mean daily total energy intake, which jumped from 2,057 kilocalories in 1970 to 2,405 in 1990, 2,674 in 2008, and 3,770 in 2014.14 We consume almost twice as much sugar, meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, and seafood today than we did in 1977, when the McGovern Report was issued. And it is no accident that the percentage of people suffering from overweight and obesity has doubled, and type 2 diabetes has more than tripled, during this same period.15 I have been in the general practice of medicine for nearly a half a century, thirty-nine years of which have been as a board-certified internist. Most of my practice has been focused on treating dietary diseases. Coupled with my experiences, national statistics tell me that nearly 70 percent of the population is overweight, with a staggering 38 percent now categorized as obese.
16 What’s more, prediabetes affects half of our population, while 14 percent of the population has a high enough blood-sugar level to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. 17 By 2030, according to current projections, 44 percent of Americans will be obese—not overweight or heavy, but obese.
18 These figures are shocking, undeniable evidence that Big Food is still winning, while the men, women, and children of the United States are literally becoming casualties of the industries’ unimpeded success.

The Current Dietary Guidelines
In addition to minimizing the dangers of cholesterol, the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015−2020 went out of its way to tell average Americans to pack as many nutrients, especially from meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, and fish, into their daily diet as possible, a laughable suggestion because Americans do not have nutrient-deficiency problems.19
If Americans don’t have nutrient deficiencies, you may ask, then what are the problems? Simply put, Americans are suffering from overnutrition: they are overloaded with cholesterol, fat, protein, and calcium—from animal foods and vegetable oils, which the USDA so aggressively recommends as part of its dietary guidelines. Even when it’s trying to help the American public, the USDA can’t seem to get out of its own way. It can’t get out of its own way because it trips over its strong political and financial ties to Big Food, overwhelmingly favoring in its guidelines the welfare of the meat, poultry, dairy, fish, and egg industries over the health and well-being of average Americans. At best, the USDA’s stance on nutrition can be described as schizophrenic. At worst, it can be described as intentionally misleading and deadly.20
In advance of the USDA’s recommendations, on January 6, 2016, I cofiled a lawsuit with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and other well-respected California-based physicians in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against the USDA and the DHHS over their Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s position that “cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”21
As physicians, we objected to this position on two grounds. The first is that cholesterol is very much a nutrient of concern, particularly in excessive quantities. Foods high in cholesterol, mainly meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and fish, can lead to obesity, heart disease (atherosclerosis), diabetes, inflammatory arthritis, and various intestinal disorders. The committee’s language about cholesterol is largely based on a twenty-year attempt by the egg industry to change the public’s image of eggs as a contributor to coronary artery disease (heart attacks), the number-one cause of death in America. Disregarding decades of independent basic research incriminating cholesterol consumption —“eating animals”—to accomplish their task, the USDA and DHHS instead relied on recent research that was orchestrated and funded by the egg and other livestock industries to communicate the innocence of eggs as a major cause of the multiple illnesses that plague millions of Americans.22
Second, my coplaintiffs and I argued in the injunction that the committee’s claim that “cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern for overconsumption” interfered with our ability as physicians to accomplish our professional objectives and duties to keep our patients healthy and reverse dietary diseases.
Though our hearing for an injunction has yet to be heard, it may have already had an impact, albeit a minor one, on the USDA and the DHHS, which released the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015−2020 with the following caveat about cholesterol consumption:
The Key Recommendation from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines to limit consumption of dietary cholesterol to 300 mg per day is not included in the 2015 edition, but this change does not suggest that dietary cholesterol is no longer important to consider when building healthy eating patterns. As recommended by the IOM (Institute of Medicine), individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible while consuming a healthy eating pattern. Strong evidence from mostly prospective cohort studies, but also randomized controlled trials, has shown that eating patterns that include lower intake of dietary cholesterol are associated with reduced risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease), and moderate evidence indicates that these eating patterns are associated with reduced risk of obesity.23
Eating “as little dietary cholesterol as possible” means following the Healthiest Diet on the Planet, since cholesterol is found in harmful amounts only in animal foods (meat, poultry, dairy, fish, and eggs), not plants.

Marketing Meat, Milk, and Disease
A marketing tactic widely used by Big Food is a method called “unique positioning.” The objective is to cause a clear, unique, and advantageous position about their product to occupy consumers’ minds. Focusing on a few unique qualities about a food and ignoring, or, worse yet, taking efforts to minimize harmful qualities found alongside these unique qualities, causes people to make food choices that can sicken themselves and their families.
For example, if I mention protein, you instinctively think of meat, poultry, and/or eggs. This is because the livestock industries have spent a lot of money making this connection for you. The truth is, however, that proteins are found in abundance in all natural foods, both plant and animal. No cases of protein deficiency have ever been reported on any natural diet, including a diet made from only plant foods.24 “Protein deficiency” is a concern invented by the livestock industries to sell products. Never mentioned in the promotion of protein-packed food products is the abundance of calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, environmental chemicals, and microbes in them. In practical dietary terms, saturated fat is essentially synonymous with meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs. In addition, excess protein is a serious burden on the kidneys and liver, and excess animal protein causes calcium loss from the bones, resulting in osteoporosis and kidney stones.25
The same technique of “unique positioning” is used by the dairy industry. I say “calcium,” and you think “milk.” Yet no cases of calcium deficiency have ever been found in humans on any natural diet.26
(You may be thinking
osteoporosis is caused by lack of calcium, but excess animal protein is the real primary dietary culprit.) The fish industries have fooled you into believing that fish is the best source of essential fats. Thus, a “unique position” is created by these industries so you will buy their fish to get your omega-3 fats. The truth is, only plants can make these essential fats. The fish got their omega-3s from eating algae and seaweed. Why not go directly to the source? Plants!
What chance, then, do consumers have of attaining good health when the meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and egg industries advertise their products as the ideal, practical, and only means to get these three essential nutrients—protein, calcium, and omega-3 fats? Very little. The only way to counter misinformation and deception is with sound information and unimpeachable scientific research.


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Karl Niebuhr

Karl Niebuhr

I'm Karl! I like to read, learn and share knowledge
Karl Niebuhr

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