The American Paradox

Primal Fat Burner
by Nora Gedgaudas
pp. 101-103

You’ve likely heard of the “French paradox”—that, despite the French people’s high consumption of saturated fat, their rates of heart disease are lower than ours in the United States. Here in our country we’re stuck in an unfortunate situation that I call the American paradox: the more closely you follow official dietary government guidelines, the worse your health is likely to be! 11 The USDA is busy telling Americans to base their daily diets upon low-fat, starchy carbohydrates and get more exercise; meanwhile, the obesity epidemic and related health challenges continue to grow. (This paradox is global, by the way—countries such as India are seeing skyrocketing rates of diabetes, and the vegetarians of southern India have literally the world’s shortest life span.)

Trying to make sense of all this is a bit like Alice falling down a rabbit hole; everything seems upside down and nonsensical. Let’s take a brief look at the stats. According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), after decades of being subjected to government guidelines promoting a low-fat and high-carbohydrate diet, Americans show the following problems: 12

  • 68.5 percent of adults are overweight or obese; 34.9 percent are obese. (Compare this to the 1971 overweight statistic of 42 percent.)
  • 31.8 percent of children and adolescents are overweight or obese; 16.9 percent are obese.
  • 30.4 percent of low-income preschoolers are overweight or obese.

Yet another study published in May 2015 examining the impact of dietary guidelines on the health of US citizens yielded some shocking but undeniable conclusions: rates of obesity and diabetes have increased dramatically. 13 The official government dietary recommendations were intended to prevent weight problems and obesity, along with diabetes, cancer, and other chronic diseases. The fact that this has not happened—and that the reverse is true—is officially rationalized in a number of ways. 14 But the underlying message is that we are dumb and lazy. That’s right—the party line about why official dietary recommendations (such as from the American Heart Association and the US Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services) have failed is that Americans are to blame because we don’t follow the guidelines and we don’t work out enough. 15 In other words, if we’re sick, it’s our own fat, stupid fault.

This is such a persistent, morale-killing, and completely misleading message that I want to address it directly before we move on.

First, we have collectively and diligently followed the guidelines. Here’s what official guidelines recommend for our daily diets versus what we are currently doing in reality (RDA stands for Recommended Daily Allowance):

Total fat consumption. RDA says a maximum of 35 percent of calories; reality says about 34 percent. (Let’s not pat ourselves on the back, though—the number one source of those fat calories is partially hydrogenated oil from genetically modified soybeans, one of the worst things for the body!)
Saturated fats. RDA says a maximum of 10 percent saturated fat; reality says just under 11 percent (not terribly naughty or rebellious relative to established government recommendations).
Carbs. RDA says 55 to 65 percent, with 45 percent the smallest amount necessary to meet the (unfounded) “optimal dietary requirements”; reality says over 50 percent. This is more than enough to create a health-compromising, sugar-burning metabolism.
Protein. RDA says between 10 and 35 percent; reality says 15 percent.

As you can see, Americans are meeting the established dietary requirements, and we have largely eschewed our national interest in protein in favor of far more addictive carbohydrates. Isn’t it strange, then, that the predominant health messages we hear are that we eat too much animal protein and saturated fat for our own good, and that those are the things that make us overweight and cause heart-related and other health problems?

Meanwhile, FRAC looked at historical shifts and found that the consumption of fats dropped from 45 to 34 percent of total caloric intake between 1971 and 2011, while carbohydrate consumption jumped from 39 to 51 percent. In the same time, obesity has surged by over 25 percent. We have diligently increased our consumption of carbohydrates and reduced our intake of animal fat and cholesterol for over five decades, according to the rules—and we have gotten fatter. Processed foods that contain chemicals such as MSG, Frankenfoods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), hydrogenated and interesterified vegetable oils, and other damaging ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup are to thank for a good part of this disaster. But the promotion of higher-carb, low-fat diets has also undeniably served to push everyone in the wrong direction. (FRAC concluded, as many scientists have, that the increased consumption of carbohydrates is what has caused the huge increase in overweight and obesity.)