Death by Food Pyramid

One of the most noted books of the year is “Death by Food Pyramid: How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Have Ruined Our Health.” I interviewed author Denise Minger about her book and her views on Paleo diets and whole food nutrition.

Death by Food Pyramid is an exploration of the politics, wayward science, and chronic misinformation shaping (and damaging) our beliefs about food. Although part of the book discusses the food pyramid itself, it branches far beyond that to look at the last hundred years of nutritional science, our modern confusion about what to eat, and the areas of intersection among all health-promoting diet,” explained Denise.

“At its core, the book strives to help people think critically about nutrition and avoid succumbing to harmful dietary dogma — whether from the USDA or from a popular health guru.”

Denise defines science-based eating as “basing our diet on evidence of what works and is appropriate for the human body. In a world where so many fad diets are battling for the spotlight (and often mangle the truth in the process), science-based eating peels away the hype and focuses on finding what demonstrably promotes human health.”

And for those seeking the perfect diet, Denise offers these thoughts:  “I think the quest for a “perfect diet” is inherently a dead end. Part of the reason we see people from all those different groups feuding is because they have, indeed, found success on their particular eating regimen — but are stuck in the mentality that there can only be one best diet, so everyone else must be wrong. There’s enough variation in human genetics, health history, gut ecology, and so forth to justify the idea that no single diet is best for all people. We each need something tailored to our individuality.”

However, she does feel that the ideal diet contains these components:

  • Minimizes high-omega-6 vegetable oils (soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, and so forth) and uses traditional fats instead, like olive oil or coconut oil or ghee
  • Includes nutrient-dense foods from both the animal and plant kingdoms (organ meats, shellfish, bone broth, fruits and vegetables grown in mineral-rich soil, fermented foods, dark leafy greens)
  • Limits refined grains and sugar; uses lower-temperature cooking methods rather than harsh ones like grilling or frying; and for those who tolerate grains and legumes, properly prepares them by soaking, sprouting, or fermenting.
And in general, the ideal diet is one “that focuses on foods that are as close to their natural state as possible and from high quality sources.Once the diet is based on high-quality “real” foods, the level of carbs and fats and calories is more of an individual thing. I don’t believe there’s a universal optimum for that. “
What does the future hold? Denise offers these predictions: “In the coming years, I think a few nutritional players will steal the spotlight. One is vitamin K2 for its role in thwarting osteoporosis, heart disease, and dental decay (among other things). It’s already becoming pretty popular in alternative health circles, but should trickle more into the mainstream soon — both in supplement form and from foods like fish eggs, natto, hard cheeses, and liver.”
In addition: “Another up-and-comer is resistant starch — a type of indigestible starch that can boost insulin sensitivity, improve glucose control, reduce fat storage after eating, and support gut health. It will probably help “redeem” some foods like potatoes and rice, which can contain high levels of resistant starch depending on how they’re prepared. I think we’ll be seeing both K2 and resistant starch become increasingly recognized for their therapeutic value.”
As for Denise’s diet? A day looks like this: She starts the day “with a lot of fruit — a pound of strawberries, or a bunch of citrus, or something exotic like dragon fruit. Then I have a couple of free-range chicken or duck eggs, cooked sunny-side up so the yolk stays raw. For lunch I might have some raw sashimi-grade fish (salmon or tuna), whatever vegetables I got at the farmers market (recently, that’s been fennel bulb, kohlrabi, yacon, carrots, snow peas, and/or celery root) and some avocado mixed with nori and kimchi. Dinner could be a huge salad, or local mussels and oysters, or chicken liver cooked with garlic and onions on a bed of kale. I drink a lot of coconut water as well. Now that summer is coming, I’ll be eating a lot more seasonal fruit; I’m eating less of it at the moment because I’m living on an island in Washington, and there isn’t anywhere to buy the tropical fruit I usually go crazy for.”


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