Today we’re here with Denise Minger, author of Death by Food Pyramid. In this special throwback episode of the Fat-Burning Man show, you’re going to learn why conventional wisdom about nutrition is hogwash, why some women gain weight on the Paleo Diet, and how to spot a fraud in the nutrition world.
Denise’s book is a must-read, flying in the face of conventional wisdom, revealing some interesting secrets about the food pyramid and why we eat the way we do, and teaching you how to separate fact from media hype when it comes to your health.
Before we get to the show—some of you have been asking where I’ve been recently.
I’ve been secretly filming a new network TV show! I’ll be starring with Shaun T, the creator of Insanity, on a new show called My Diet is Better Than Yours premiering on ABC Primetime on January 7th.
Many more details to come, but you’re going to be hearing a lot about fat-burning and The Wild Diet in the next few months! Stay tuned.
For more info on the show, check out this article.
Now onto the show with Denise Minger.
As a young child, Denise went vegetarian and suffered health problems—so she dove into the raw food movement… and then crawled right back out of it.
On this show, we’re talking about:
- Why the Paleo diet doesn’t work for some women
- The importance of dietary fat
- How to eat for healthy teeth
- Understanding the science behind nutrition
- Why doctors aren’t always right
- And so much more!
FROM RAW FOOD VEGAN TO HEALTHY OMNIVORE
Abel: You were one of the first I saw take modern nutrition and punch it in the face… and stomp on it until it was completely deflated. I think this book was a long time coming. Can you start with that moment that quite a few of us in Paleo have experienced? You were 17, you walked into the dentist’s office, and he didn’t have good news.
My health journey started when I was 7. I went vegetarian. I choked on a bite of steak, so I dropped all meat. As years went on I got into animal rights and health—that lasted 10 years. I became incredibly invested in the vegetarian-vegan movement.
At age 11 I was diagnosed with a wheat allergy and a sensitivity to dairy and soy. I could eat almost nothing at all. It was around then that I started investigating different diets.
As a vegetarian kid with food allergies, I was sickly. I had ear infections, bronchitis, and was on antibiotics all the time. Other kids had energy, and I didn’t feel like moving.
When I turned 16 I came across Douglas Graham’s fruit based diet. The idea was that chimpanzees are strong and healthy and they eat mostly fruit. It made sense to me, so I went full feet into the raw vegan movement.
For a whole year I ate nothing but raw fruits and veggies and a small amount of seeds and nuts. Guess what happened?
The first few months were wonderful, but then:
- My hair started falling out
- I couldn’t keep muscle mass
- I was skin and bones
- My teeth were really sensitive
- My skin was really dry
- I was cold all the time
I was also in major denial. I thought I was detoxing. I was listening to the raw foodies on the internet.
I always had really good teeth and incredible dental habits. I was so proud that I got rave reviews at the dentist. Then at 17 years old, after a year of raw food veganism, I went in for a checkup and the dentist got really concerned.
I had something like 16 cavities. He found decay on every tooth. I was horrified.
I couldn’t keep listening to people on the internet—I had to do my own research. Who do I believe now? What the heck was rotting my teeth? I thought it was fruit sugar, but it wasn’t. It was a lack of fat-soluble vitamins.
Abel: Your tooth was the canary in the coal mine. Can you explain what teeth have to do with bone and overall health?
Weston A. Price was a maverick dentist who studied the diets and dental health of people across various cultures, from impoverished inner city children to tribal people. What he found was that the people with beautiful straight healthy teeth and great bone structure had one common denominator: They were eating plenty of vitamins A, D and K2.
Dental health often reflects what’s going on in the entire body. @DeniseMinger Click To Tweet
These fat-soluble vitamins have been exiled from our menus because they’re high in saturated fat and cholesterol: organ meat, shellfish, egg yolks, hard cheeses.
But these foods were embraced by traditional cultures. They’d trek miles and miles to find those foods because those foods would produce generations of healthy children.
When human beings transitioned to a western diet, we lost three essential vitamins… and we lost our good teeth.
WHY THE FOOD PYRAMID IS WRONG
Abel: When researching this book, was there anything that really surprised you?
The history of the food pyramid shocked me! When I started I knew the basic assembly of it, but the roots of the food pyramid go back to the 1970’s and a woman named Luise Light.
Luise Light was hired by the USDA to replace “The Basic 4,” the food guide used since World War II which essentially said “to eat a lot of everything and don’t worry about it.” Chronic disease and obesity started taking over America, and congress pressured the USDA to reduce cost of health care by readjusting the food guide.
Luise Light was hired to create a new food guide based on science to ward off chronic disease.
She spent a year doing research, convening groups of experts, conducting experiments, and by the time she was done she had a food guide that was generally recommending: tons of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, very little grain (she thought grains would be a problem to eat in large quantities). She recommended cutting whole grains to 2 – 3 servings for an adult (3 servings would be for a very active adult male). She warned that more grains than that would cause a mass epidemic of obesity and diabetes.
Luise submitted her new food guide recommendations to the USDA and the Secretary of Agriculture, and instead of getting approved, it got completely mangled!
She was never aware of what went on behind closed doors, but their revised food guide increased the quantity of grains to 6 – 11 servings! The “whole grain” was removed, making room for refined flours at the base of the pyramid. They even pruned down fruit and vegetables to 2 – 3 servings a day! (This was increased later at the strong recommendation of the National Cancer Institute.)
When she asked why her carefully researched food guideline was mangled, they told her they needed to keep the lid on the cost of the food stamp program by replacing vegetables with grains.
She felt she was not told the truth, but had no power to protest it, so this became the basis for 1992 food guide pyramid.
The food pyramid was designed to promote food that's cheap as opposed to food that's good for you. Click To Tweet
HOW TO ABOLISH DIETARY DOGMA AND LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Abel: You and I are not promoting a revolutionary new diet—so what’s different about what’s on your plate every day?
While the standard definition of the Paleo approach has evolved, it essentially looks at what humans ate up to about 10,000 years ago. People ate real foods—things you could hunt and scavenge, as opposed to processed Frankenfoods.
But you don’t even have to go back that far.
It would be interesting to put a person from the 1600’s in the center of a supermarket and see what they recognize on the shelves.
Everything is the same mixture of wheat, corn, and soy in different forms and it’s pretty horrifying.
Abel: You’re not afraid of fat? How much fat are you eating a day?
My main sources of fat are usually fish and coconut products, nuts and seeds, and organ meats. My diet is a fusion of what worked as a raw foodist, what I learned from Weston A. Price, and what’s worked from the ancestral health spheres.
I don’t count macronutrients at all. The idea of being afraid of fat because of being told by the USDA and other organizations that saturated fat is going to kill you is completely wrong. The science just isn’t there.You don’t need to be afraid of eating nourishing foods that are high in saturated fat. Click To Tweet
Abel: You talk about how your approach is your own. What does that look like day to day?
I’m eating a lot of salmon sashimi to refuel and help my brain. I eat liver sautéed with onions and garlic on a bed of greens from the farmer’s market. I try to eat locally. I get beautiful eggs from a farm that I enjoy for breakfast.
Abel: One thing you talk about in your book is how we put so much trust into the wrong people. In what ways are we misplacing our trust?
I see a big problem with this idea that we can trust anyone with credentials. We are enamored with PhDs and letters after names, but credentials don’t make you immune to bias.
Just because someone has a medical degree or a degree in nutrition does not make them accurate and correct in everything they think and believe.
If you trust everyone who has credentials, you will end up in a massive pile of confusion. Click To Tweet
Doctors do not have much nutritional training. In fact, to get a Harvard medical degree you don’t have to take any nutrition classes at all. The idea that doctors don’t have that training is disheartening.
I don’t want to criticize doctors for this, because I know that it’s an incredibly stressful profession, but you probably have more time to research nutrition than they do.
Abel: There’s something scary going on in the nutrition industry now—diploma mills. People are actually sending some sum of money to these company who will then send you a diploma. If you’re willing to go that low to get some letters after your name, it speaks to you character.
It’s better not to have letters behind your name than to have bought them. This is why it’s really important to do your own research.
You shouldn’t outsource your trust when it comes to your own body and your own health.
Abel: You and I both learned that the hard way—from getting sick, and then waking up to the fact that no one knows your own body better than you. Why is this important?
One of the most interesting things in my research was genetic markers in how we process and metabolize different foods. The amylase gene in saliva breaks down starch and sugar. You can have between 2 and 15 copies of this gene.
For primates it’s 2 copies across the board—humans are the only ones with a huge range of amylase copies. Why is this important?
If someone producing a lot of amylase in their saliva eats a potato, it’s broken down rapidly and it enters the stomach quickly causing a mild rise in blood sugar.
If you have a lower number of amylase and you eat the starchy potato, your blood sugar skyrockets. This helped me understand why some people do well on high starch diets and others crash and burn.
I spend a lot of time on vegan diet boards because it fascinates me when I see someone thriving on a diet no matter what it is. Someone on paleo might add some starch back in and do great, someone else might gain weight, get sick, and feel like they’re starving!
Then there’s the APOE gene—APOE 2, 3, and 4. People who carry the APOE4 gene have trouble getting enough cholesterol to their brain, so they accumulate a high level of LDL cholesterol in their bloodstream in attempt to get it there.
So, if you’re eating a lot of saturated fat and you have that APOE4, you’re at risk for heart disease… you might have to eat less fat.
You can’t prescribe a food plan to everyone out there without looking at individual genetic makeup. Bottom line: Get rid of the dogma.
As a vegetarian and vegan I experienced tons of dogma. “The diet can’t fail. You fail. It’s your fault.” We need to release the idea of looking for the one perfect diet.
We need to learn from each personal struggle or success. We are individuals, but we can all learn from the collective experience.
Abel: Have you seen examples of people doing diametrically opposed things and each having success?
Sometimes I get emails from ex raw vegans who went paleo and now they feel amazing! Sometimes, it’s the opposite. You have to respect that people’s needs and bodies can fluctuate. What’s working now might not work in five years.
But there’s a commonality with success in both extremes: excluding refined sugar, refined grain, vegetable oil, and processed foods. Both Paleo and raw veganism are whole food diets, even if they vary in what types of food.
Abel: A lot of guys are having results on paleo—fat-loss, hormones regulate, things go pretty well. But there are a larger percentage of women who have some success but then are still overweight to a degree or they plateau… some people just tell them they must be doing it wrong, but what’s your perspective?
I’m guessing it has to do with hormones and maybe even a response to dietary fat. You can’t just say that calories don’t matter, dousing everything in coconut oil and butter. That doesn’t seem to work.
Resistant starch is getting some attention—this is starch that bipasses digestion and gets consumed by gut flora. It also replenishes microbes in the colon and helps gut ecology get healthy and grow better.
I wonder if cutting out resistant starches is going to become detrimental? Any time there’s a dietary switch, there’s a change in your gut flora.
We really need to be kinder to the women who are doing this. Maybe there’s a place to switch up animal to plant food ratio—go lower fat if that’s what it takes.
Paleo tends to be reactionary to traditional wisdom—they say not to eat bacon, so let’s eat all the bacon! But there may be things about lowering fat content that are beneficial for some people.We need a more moderate approach, rather than just rebelling against everything. @DeniseMinger Click To Tweet
Abel: A lot of new products are built on Paleo, but I don’t eat most of them because they don’t line up with my idea of health. Chocolate Paleo bars with 15 grams of sugar from honey?
There are many great Paleo cookbooks that recreate foods in the Standard American Diet—and there’s a place for those. But at the same time I think there’s a wide spectrum from fake foods to real foods, and things like “Paleo candy bars” are closer to what we are trying to get away from.
Paleo includes eating the animal nose to tail, and many don’t do that. We are eating veggies from the grocery store instead of out of the soil. At this point, a lot of the Paleo Frankenfoods are an attempt to profit out of the movement, but there are some genuine products out there that you can consume in small amounts and be okay.
You can’t gorge out on bacon or sweets. There needs to be time for both abundance and scarcity—there’s a case for intermittent fasting or seasonal eating. The idea of living in huge abundance all the time is not Paleo at all.
There’s an appeal to a diet that cuts out certain foods and then you can eat as much as you want of what’s allowed. But you just can’t do that.
Abel: I hear you. Why is bad science so prevalent?
I think human beings tend to believe that science is this thing so far above us that we can’t reach it if we don’t have a PhD or formal science training. So what happens is the people who control the dispense of science (media and journalists) are filtering things for us.
We are disconnected from primary research. Everything is filtered through someone else’s lens. Bad studies based on observational evidence get way too much credence—like the one saying “red meat causes diabetes.”We haven’t educated ourselves. Reading a study can be daunting, but it’s really easy to learn. Click To Tweet
I put some tips in my book for people to determine what kinds of studies to listen to and how to understand science jargon. Take a little bit of time to educate yourself so you can understand what the big headlines mean.
WHERE TO FIND DENISE MINGER
And check out Denise’s book Death by Food Pyramid on Amazon.
BEFORE YOU GO…
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My wife, Alyson, and I created an online community to share our outrageously tasty recipes, fat-burning workouts, and healthy living tips all in one place.
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Is the food pyramid still being taught at your child’s school? Comment below to let me know what you thought about the interview.Share this with your friends!