Are USDA Food Guidelines of Any Value?
The objective of good nutrition is to provide needed nutrients for your body’s organs and tissues to work effectively so that the body can avoid disease, infection and poor performance. While macronutrients provide the bulk of your energy, micronutrients provide the “cofactors” necessary for metabolic activities. From this perspective, simple carbohydrates, fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, water and oxygen may all be considered as nutrients.
The presence of the right amount of a nutrient in the body is critical, because the deficiency of each one is often linked to a disease. One example is scurvy, resulting from a deficiency of vitamin C. Humans need vitamin C to synthesize proteins from amino acids. There are about a million proteins in the body, each one a little different. Unlike most animals, humans can’t synthesize their own vitamin C. They must obtain vitamin C through their diets. Another example is iron-deficiency anemia that can occur due to not enough iron in the body.
To help consumers choose the diet that is right for them, USDA published the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines acknowledge that healthy eating needs to take into consideration one’s overall eating pattern, not specific food groups. The new guidelines are far more in agreement with my concepts of healthy nutrition.
When it comes to a healthy diet, defined most often by experts as the one needed to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, balance is the key. They explain that this means eating a wide variety of foods in the “right proportions.” They go on to say that since the components of diet can interact with each other, a healthy eating pattern has to be tailored to the needs of each individual, starting from age 2 and older.
Experts want you to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables; some protein-rich foods such as meat, fish and lentils; some milk and dairy foods; and not too much fat, salt or sugar to get all the nutrients you need. They often tell you the exact number of servings you need of each food on a daily basis.
The Role of Your Brain
But how can experts be sure when it comes to what is needed in the body of any given individual at a given meal on any given day and, what are the right proportions? Secondly, when you eat in response to the sensation of hunger, your brain is not looking for food groups, but for nutrients. But, which ones? With over 100 nutrients identified as useful to humans, what is lacking in your body at any one time can’t be determined by any currently available methods.
I submit that your brain knows the answers to these questions. By paying far more attention to your real hunger and satiation signals, you will eat more in line with what your brain tells you how much you need.
I believe that your brain is important to listen to, as it is already aware of the nature and quantity of nutrient deficiency when you feel the sensation of hunger. Any predetermination of the type or proportion of food, whether based on expert opinion or not, can’t be accurate because only your brain knows your real nutrient need. Based on your previous experience with various foods, your brain will guide you to choose items that will rebalance nutrients in your body.
During a meal, your brain can monitor incoming nutrients using your taste and smell receptors, as long as you chew the food thoroughly and slowly. In return, your brain creates the sensation of enjoyment of eating a meal and, when you have consumed enough of the needed nutrients, your brain will inform you by reducing the intensity of enjoyment of that item of food.
All you have to do is watch how toddlers eat and you will understand what I am talking about. They do not follow official dietary guidelines; they eat when they are hungry, only what they enjoy, they decide the quantity of food to eat, and, in general, they grow healthy, on their own, without regard to food groups or guidelines about how much to eat.
In effect, toddlers know only to follow their brain’s signals when it comes to eating. They have not yet developed habits of eating from their parents, their culture, or from advertising. They do not naturally crave a high level of carbs, salt, or sugary foods, as these tastes are acquired from adults and marketed heavily to them.
So rather than using food groups or USDA guidelines about eating, I submit that if you are interested in maintaining a healthy weight, eating properly to give your body nutrition, and feeling energetic and vital, pay attention to your brain’s true hunger and satiation signals to guide you.
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