The USDA “Food Pyramid” has been around for 21 years, based on the dietary recommendations of the late 1950’s and official recommendations from the USDA in 1977. But data shows that the population of the world is the most obese that it has ever been. Seems that the low fat diet plan is not working (see the chart below), doesn’t it? Have you ever wondered why our grandparents ate all the bad stuff but weren’t obese? I did. As it turns out, there is a lot of new research that says they were right and that the low-fat, low cholesterol, and no saturated fat diet is actually causing the obesity epidemic along with several other modern problems.
My grandmother was a great cook, not a five-star restaurant chef, but she made foods that we all enjoyed and were better than you can find in any restaurant these days. Why? Because she used what she had, all natural foods including fish and game meats that my grandfather hunted, cooked in butter and lard. Lard? Yep. She made the best fried (in-lard) fish with corn-meal batter that I have ever had. Hands down! When her freezer got too full of fish, she would have a fish-fry and invite all the family and friends.
One of my favorite memories of her is the Thanksgiving dinners, where she would make each person’s favorite dish. All at the same time and all excellent. Sometimes for 11+ family members who came for the dinner. You would have thought that our family would be all overweight and in bad health from all that tasty, high-fat food. But that was not the case. My best description of my family’s diet philosophy was “everything is ok, just in moderation.” It was high in everything, low in nothing and all made from scratch. We hadn’t yet heard of the food pyramid. As it turns out, there is now a lot of good scientific research to say that the food pyramid is upside down. In this and later blog posts, I’ll explain.
I’ve been a follower of Dr. Tim Noake’s (University of Cape Town professor of exercise and sports physiology) books and writings for a couple of years now. Dr. Noakes is the author of several books that challenge the general notions and commercialized hype that rules the sports world. See the “Lore of Running” and “Waterlogged” which I have discussed before. His research into human performance and physiology is very well respected. He has debunked several widely-accepted ideas including the idea that you must drink to excess (promoted by the sports-drink industry) to be able to perform well in endurance events.
His latest research push is into the impact and efficacy of the low-fat dietary recommendations that were introduced in 1977 which promoted the following (from www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines): Increase carbohydrate intake to 55 to 60 percent of calories while decreasing dietary fat intake to no more than 30 percent of calories, with a reduction in intake of saturated fat, and recommended approximately equivalent distributions among saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats to meet the 30 percent target. They also recommended to decrease cholesterol intake to 300 mg per day, sugar intake to 15 percent of calories, and to decrease salt intake to 3 g per day.
In 1992 the USDA published the now famous “Food Pyramid” seen to the left. These recommendations have been adopted around the world and the words “low-fat” are on everything in the grocery store from cookies to yogurt to salad dressings. The result was the demonizing of several common foods including butter, lard, eggs, and full-fat dairy products. The push was towards grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Butter and lard were replaced with margarine (read: trans-fat), vegetable oils and polyunsaturated fats. Eggs and bacon were out. Lean turkey was in. Much of our food supply became wheat and corn-based because grains were subsidized by the USDA and therefore cheap and plentiful. Even the livestock are fed corn. Every product on the store shelf became labeled as low-fat and grain-based. Try to buy a non-low fat yogurt in your grocery store, there are one or two containers among the 100’s of low fat yogurts (which all have added sugar, by the way). Most low-fat products have added sugar to make them palatable, often in the form of the very cheap but very bad High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).
Dr. Noakes became interested in the low fat vs low-carbohydrate diet issue when his own weight and pre-diabetic condition became a problem. Although he has run more than 70 marathons, as he aged he was unable to control his weight. In this article he explains his justification for moving to a Low-Carbohydrate High Fat (LCHF) diet. He is carbohydrate-resistant which makes him unable to tolerate high carbohydrate diet. It is ironice that LCHF was the recommended method of losing weight (called “Banting” after William Banting) from the 1860’s to 1959, when it was replaced by the Low-Fat High Carbohydrate (LFHC), so called “Heart Healthy” diet (due to Ancel Keys’ flawed analysis that led to the claim that cholesterol causes heart disease).
So how have the low-fat, low cholesterol, high carbohydrate recommendations worked out? A very compelling article summarizes the correlation and reasons why the “Low Fat War” was a mistake. The correlation is uncanny, but that is not proof. Recent scientific studies have shown that the Low-Fat guidelines are indeed wrong. In addition, many health problems that are epidemic these days are being attributed to the HCLF lifestyle.
I have never had a big problem with weight, but have always been annoyed that my weight would fluctuate 10 lbs (a lot on my small frame) when I stepped back from intensive training. The other issue is that no matter how many miles I would ride or run, I never seemed to lose that last bit of fat around my middle. In mid-September I decided to try reducing carbs in my diet and to keep track of the results. Studies have shown that weight can be easily maintained on 100-150 g/day and reduced on 50-100 g/day without restricting calories drastically. Going less than 50 g/day will make losing weight easy. Check out authoritynutrition.com‘s articles for good advice on this subject. In the US, many individuals get 40% of their calories from sugar, and eat more than 600 g/day of carbs. No wonder we are an obese society. Studies have shown low-carb diets are better at reducing fat than low-fat diets.
Initially I just lowered the overall carb total, then after a couple of weeks I went to less than 150g/day. Initially, I was craving carbs, but then when I realized that I was having more motivation, less 10:00 AM sugar lows and cravings for cinnamon raisin bread I decided to get down to under 100 g/day of carbs. I have eliminated almost all breads, potatoes, pastas and other grain-based foods. Added sugar, honey and other forms of sugar are totally out. After a couple of weeks, the carb cravings went away and I actually was less hungry. Although this is not a scientific result, I have lost 5-6 lbs (~4% of starting weight) while eating more meats, eggs, cheese and generally higher fat foods. This is while at the same time not riding or running significantly since the end of September (my usual fall hiatus from training). In past years my weight would have been 7 to 8 lbs. higher during this time of year. So this year I am essentially 11-14 lbs lighter than last year when I took time off. I think that is very significant!
In future posts, I will talk about what my research into the literature on the LCHF lifestyle has found including the health benefits. I will cover sugar, grains, eating fat to lose fat and why a “calorie is not a calorie” among other topics. I think you will find it interesting and eye-opening. It has been for me.
Questions for all the cyclists out there as the season winds down:
- How has your cycling year been?
- Did you have a great year?
- Did you meet your goals?
- What would you change?
I, like everyone sets goals for my cycling in the early season. Usually I get excited in January about the upcoming season and the thought of getting back out on the roads, racing and riding with the local groups as the weather improves. It also comes from the fact that I have rolled my workout intensity back in the fall and in January I’m looking to get back into serious workout mode again.
This year has been very good for me and I have ridden some very strong rides, Battenkill, Trooper Brinkerhoff races, the Harlem Valley Rail Ride and finally the latest 50-miler: the “Bike for Cancer Care” group ride in Kingston NY last Sunday. It is a group ride with no timing and not a race, but the course is good with what I would call moderate climbs, only one is categorized (cat-4, but short).
I started out with no warm-up and just sat in with the second group of riders that were working fairly well together and pace-lining on Hurley Mountain Rd., waiting for my cold leg muscles to warm up and my attitude to improve. Somewhere near the left turn at the south end onto Tongore Rd., I started feeling better and stronger, so decided to work at it a bit, instead of just riding. Time to check the ol’ legs out and see if they were ready. Who knows, maybe they are actually working? After the turn on Mill Dam Road the course gets more hilly and the pack broke up. Another rider (Bill) and I, broke away on the climb and descent to Rosendale. We eventually rode together, trading pulls with each other for the rest of the ride (about 40 miles), averaging in the low 20’s for most of the rest of the ride. Eventually we picked up two more riders that were dropped from the lead group and finished strong, averaging 20 MPH for the entire ride. A nice effort and really a surprise for me, since I was not motivated and had no plan to ride that hard at the start.
The net of this long discussion is that this year’s training has been quite good and the results show it, even though I have ridden less total miles this year than last year at this time. About 500 miles less and riding 3-4 days a week. I’m also stronger than at this time last year. How did I do it? Through focused, high intensity training for strength and speed, with longer rides for endurance. This is the training that the Big Ring Riding group has been doing all season with excellent results. We have done all types of intervals: high-intensity, short, long, sprint, tempo, threshold, VO2Max, hills and more hills. In addition, we also worked on pace-lines, criteriums, and time-trials, just for the fun of it.
Here’s my offer to cyclists in the area. There are a couple more weeks of Big Ring Riding evening training sessions left this season and I am opening up the rest of the season for free to anyone who wants to try it out, no strings attached. Come out and train with us on Monday and Wednesday nights at 5:30 pm starting tomorrow, 9/18. Sessions last 1 to 1-1/2 hours, typically. Send me a message on our contact page or via FB to reserve your spot and get the details.
I have been leading group rides for two years now, a task that is sometimes referred to as “herding cats.” I really enjoy getting out there with the group, working those legs, talking about whatever comes to mind, dodging deer, cicadas and squirrels; and even sometimes, working really hard at keeping up with a very strong group.
Last Sunday’s Big Ring Riding sponsored group ride was set up for 48+ miles with some good hills in the middle. The weather was to be nice, so it looked like it would be a good day. I usually ride from my house to Rhinebeck for the start, stopping for a cappuccino and pastry on the way down, and last Sunday was to be no different. However, I got up feeling tired and disinterested, thought about skipping the ride down and driving (not the capp and pastry, though) but decided to get out the door on time and take it easy on the flattest route to Rhinebeck. A good group of seven riders showed up and we talked while getting ready to go.
Off we went west towards Rhinecliff, my legs still feeling fatigued and burning while going up the hill out of Rhinebeck. I settled in and let the more motivated riders lead. Once getting to Rhinecliff I signaled an unplanned right turn and took the group down to the Hudson River at the boat launch. Most of the riders had never been there or didn’t even know that there is a nice spot to take a break during a long ride, have a snack at the picnic tables or just enjoy the view of the lighthouse at the mouth of the Rondout. A big empty oil barge was rumbling south so we talked for a few minutes, marveled at the Great Blue Heron on the bank to the north, then headed back up the hill to the planned route.
Heading south is the rolling hills of Morton road which got the group moving and pushing the ups and downs. The pace picked up as we headed onto South Mill Rd. but another excursion opportunity came to me and we headed for another unplanned right turn down Wyndclyffe Court to take a look at the now falling down, but still architecturally phenomenal Wyndclyffe mansion. If you’ve never seen it, it is a huge brick house built in the 1850’s in the Norman style (according to wikipedia). The house has been abandoned since 1950’s and since the 1980’s has been crumbling, losing one tower and lots of brick. Per Bob Yasinac, the house was “built for Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones, a relative by marriage to the wealthy Astor Family, and it is rumored she is the source of the old adage: keeping up with the Joneses.” Sad to see these glorious mansions crumble into the woods.
So back to the ride we went and headed south, back to Rte. 9 and then right onto Old Post Rd. and guess what, another excursion into Staatsburg for a ride by the Mills Mansion down to the river again. Staatsburgh is another of the Hudson River mansions, but this one is a NYS historical site and is very well maintained. I’ve spent a lot of time there with the Red Hook HS cross-country team running and watching the team compete every fall. The grounds are open and free, go through the mansion on one of the paid tours to see how the people lived in the gilded age.
Next we headed back up to the planned route and up the hill, across route 9 and onto the meat of the ride. By then my legs were into it, and my head was too. So off we went for a lot of climbing and a very nice 16+ mph average over the route with a great group. We stopped to look at the great vistas of the Millbrook Winery at the top of Ernest Rd., had a couple of very nice dirt roads, climbed the east side of Salisbury Turnpike and flew down the west side. Successful day of riding, I think!
My training rides are hard work, head down, focusing and pushing those pedals for the entire workout plan. The group rides are much different for me, much less focused on performance. It’s all about the group and the route. Although we do ride hard on these rides, I hope to make them fun for every rider, not just the strongest.
Sometimes it seems that all I need is to just take it easy and look around a bit to get my motivation back. We ride in an area that has great roads and is full of the hidden gems like Wyndclyffe that we go by all the time without seeing. Look around guys, there is more to riding than average pace and climb stats!
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily”
It takes time and effort to keep the motivation up, set goals, enjoy the process, learn from the mistakes, and celebrate the wins both big and small.
But when you’ve learned to shut off outside influences and believe in yourself, there’s no telling how good a player you can be. That’s because you have the mental edge. -Rod Carew