This week I met a man at the box that I train at and serve as the athletic fueling coach. As we were talking about performance diet, he complained of always being hungry, no matter how much he ate. I’m not sure if I could have said anything more absurd to him when I suggested he back off the carbs and increase the fats. “You can’t cut out carbs!”, he said. “You HAVE to have carbs!”. I qiupped with a generous smile. “No, you CAN use carbs, but you don’t NEED them. As matter of fact, your body actually prefers to use fats and ketones as a fuel source, especially the brain.” His response took me by surprise when he said very emphatically, “Your brain need to carbs to run!”.
Should I be surprised? What is going on with everyone today in this belief that carbohydrates are such a staple part of our diet and necessary for energy? I remember my grandparents eating tons of fat! Fatty pork, beef, eggs, and butter. My grandmother cooked every meal with a lard bucket next to the stove. What happened between my parents generation of high fat diets with low obesity to this generation where everything is low fat and we’re the fattest generation in American history? My generation (I’m 37) has been duped again.
Let me give you a generational narrative.
After WW2 the government decided to take on a new war. The war on malnutrition. During the 50’s and 60’s the government went to work feeding poor, hungry populations such as pockets of Appalachia and inner cities. By the end of the 60’s (as far as the government was concerned) everyone was fed. At that time and prior, the American diet kept grains low and produce, meats, and fats high. Along comes George McGovern.
Senator McGovern of the United States Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs decided we needed a new war to fight. A war on heart disease and cholesterol…even though there were few victims of such. As he pushed the USDA to recalibrate the national food pyramid to reflect (heart healthy) diets, he finally won over in 1977. Pay attention to that date. So, in 1977 America adopted a new Standard American Diet (SAD) and it was sad indeed. Now, (sarcasm here) could this push for grains have been brought on because of the push during WW2 for enormous wheat production that inevitably faded after the war, leaving the government with HUGE wheat contracts left to pay? “Wheat will win the war” was one of the wartime slogans. What are we going to do with all of this wheat?
In 1977 the nutritonal map of America took a huge shift. Overnight, fat is bad and carbs are good. Everything goes low fat, whole grain. I was born just 2 years after this shift. My entire generation has known nothing but a pyramid that suggests carbs as a 50-60% part of a healthy diet. Fats come in at only 5%. “High fat diets will kill you” is how I was educated throughout the 80’s and 90’s. If you look at what a fat was during that time you’ll find vegetable oils, corn oils, margerin, synthetic oils. Yes, they will kill you. Such a high fat diet would! They took away our butter, high fat creams and milks, and even our fatty meats and eggs. Yet,our generation is the highest ranked for obesity, diabetes, brain defects, hormonal defects, cancers, depression…and on and on and on. Read Food politics for the whole story of the USDA’s change of the pyramid.
Sadly, it’s now hard for me to convince my generation the dangers of high carb/ low fat diets. We assume everything we’ve been taught and educated by our government must be valid and true. So no, I’m not surprised by statements and reactions regarding such proposals on diet…but I am hopeful we can turn this around.