Last week I embarked on quite an adventurous journey that took me away from my daily routine in my hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina all the way to our nation’s capital in Washington, DC to stand before one of the most powerful government agencies overseeing nutritional public policy in the United States of America. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) along with The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) have combined forces every five years since 1994 to come up with brand new recommendations known as MyPyramid about how the public should be eating and exercising in order to attain optimal health and weight control. They do this through a subset of the USDA called The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) created in December 1994 and charged with identifying all of the latest and relevant scientific research linked with nutrition that is important to the American people. These recommendations are used as a template and guide for many government programs such as school lunches in public schools. Additionally, major health organizations like the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association cite the information provided by the USDA as their evidence for promoting nutritional solutions to health conditions related to diet, namely heart disease and diabetes. In other words, this is all a very big deal and 2010 just happens to be the year when the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans is set to be released.
On June 15, 2010, the 13-member Advisory Committee for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines released their long-awaited preliminary recommendations to the USDA about what should be promoted as the ideal way for Americans to eat based on what they found is the latest scientific literature to be released over the past five years. However, all it took was a cursory glance at what they came up with (greater carbohydrate intake, lower fat and especially saturated fat consumption, moving to a more plant-based diet, hours of cardiovascular exercise weekly, etc.) to realize that some key studies had either been inadvertently or purposefully overlooked by the Advisory Committee. Although there were plenty of qualified candidates doing quality studies on carbohydrate restriction like Dr. Jeff Volek, Dr. Richard Feinman, and Dr. Eric Westman who were willing and able to provide input as part of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, not one single low-carb researcher or practitioner was chosen to serve on the panel. The presence of even a single bona fide expert who realizes the positive health ramifications of a low-carb, moderate protein, high-fat diet would have tee-totally changed the dynamics of this group given the task of identifying the most pertinent science as it relates to nutrition (click here to read more reaction from the low-carb community). Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and the results were predictable. But this didn’t sit too well with me or other key members of the low-carb community who are concerned with the regression happening with the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines.
In January 2010, I proposed three daring ideas for trying to influence the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and beyond with the low-carb science: urging concerned low-carbers to submit comments to the USDA directly, holding a low-carb rally in Washington, DC to attract media attention to the low-carb science they ignored, and providing public oral testimony before the USDA Committee. The first idea is still available until July 15, 2010 for anyone who wants to provide public comments about the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for the panel to consider before they release the final version in December 2010. If you haven’t made your voice heard already, then this is the perfect chance for you to have your input become a part of the public record. As for the second idea, a group of us attempted to put together a media rally on behalf of the low-carb science to take place in Washington, DC the day before the USDA allowed for public testimonies, but it was cost-prohibitive (one public relations firm said it would cost upwards of $50,000 to hold such an event to get the media to attend). We were going to try to make it happen on Wednesday, July 7, 2010 but it would not have made any difference if the media failed to attend. However, it was the final idea that I decided to embrace and take on as my personal cause on behalf of real people within the low-carb community and it culminated at the USDA’s South Building on July 8, 2010. That’s the day they swung their doors wide open to anyone and everyone in the United States who wanted to provide input into what should go into the 2010 Dietary Guidelines.
Shortly after the Report of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee was released to the public last month, I knew I would be heading to Washington, DC to air my grave concerns with what they would be sharing as nutritional truths with millions of unsuspecting Americans whose health will be made worse following their advice. If the USDA was a business and the state of public health was their profit margin, then they would have gone bankrupt years ago. In case you haven’t noticed in the past 20 years or so, the rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses have gotten considerably worse since the implementation of these Dietary Guidelines. Albert Einstein once defined insanity by stating quite clearly that it is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” And that’s precisely what has happened to national nutritional policy in the United States in recent years. It’s as if the blinders have been turned on when they go to look at the science and virtually ignore anything that doesn’t fit within the template of a low-fat, low-salt, calorie-restricted, high-carb, plant-based diet. You and I both know this one-size-fits-all approach to eating does not work for a large segment of the population dealing with obesity or any variety of metabolic or blood sugar disorders. In fact, the statistics have shown us what an utter and dismal failure this message has been for America and it’s time for the USDA to realize the error of their ways.
I arrived at the USDA’s South Building in Washington, DC and made my way over to the Jefferson Auditorium where the Public Meeting of Oral Testimony on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines would be taking place. According to the agenda for the meeting, there were some opening remarks by the Executive Director for the CNPP Rajen Anand, the Deputy Director for the CNPP Robert Post, and the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health from HHS Penelope Slade-Sawyer that preceded 50 three-minute comments from members of the “public.” I was speaker #26 and proceeded to my assigned seat in the auditorium. Proving the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction, guess who I was sitting right next to? None other than vegan/vegetarian activist Dr. Neal Barnard from Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). He was scheduled to speak right after me at #27 and I couldn’t help but laugh at the fortuitous scheduling that put one of the biggest low-carb proponents right next to a leading voice in the low-fat, vegetarian community. Somebody at the USDA wanted to have some fun it seems. Interestingly, Dr. Barnard was quite a nice guy and introduced himself to me stating, “Hi, I’m Neal Barnard.” I shook his hand and replied, “I know who you are, sir. You’ll be a guest on my podcast show next month.” I booked him several months ago through his assistant to record the interview about his new book on diabetes in mid-August and it will air on September 20, 2010. When he heard my name, Dr. Barnard replied, “Oh yes, I look forward to our chat.” Me too, my friend. It should be quite the discussion!
Once the testimonies began, we were rounded up to stand in line five at a time each having our three minutes at the microphone standing in front of the panel representing the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. They sat behind a table up on a stage taking notes and occasionally looking up from time to time at the parade of people testifying before them. I was surprised to see so many people there reading from prepared statements. Since what was shared during oral testimonies will become a part of the public record (a transcript of the oral testimonies will be shared here within the next few days), I guess they wanted to make sure they got it all in. You couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t just submit their comments in writing. If you are passionate enough about a topic and believe in it wholeheartedly, then you could speak extemporaneously about it without any trouble at all. You could count on one hand the people that did that.
One by one we heard from what was obviously paid lobbyists for just about every food industry and interest group you could think of relating to diet and health: sugar, dairy, bakery, salt, eggs, produce, soy, beef, pork and more. I suppose that it shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, considering they all have a stake in what the USDA promotes to the public as healthy or not. Even still, groups you would think would support low-carb living in front of the panel instead attempted to kowtow to them by putting the emphasis on the “lean” cuts of meat or the egg whites. It was pretty disgusting and a missed opportunity for the companies representing milk, beef, pork and eggs to explain the healthfulness of the fat in their foods. That’s just too bad that they have to play the political propaganda game in order to try to get in the good graces of the almighty USDA. No wonder all you can ever seem to find on shelves is low-fat junk!
Furthermore, it’s just too bad that of the 300 million Americans who had the opportunity to present testimony at this important meeting, a measly 50 people signed up with the vast majority of them paid to be there. I realize trying to get off work, not having the resources to travel to Washington, DC, family responsibilities and more prevent most people from doing something like this. That’s why I wanted to go on behalf of the real people out there who didn’t really have an advocate speaking for them at this meeting besides me. But it was encouraging to see so many who did show up in defense of the low-carb/low-sugar lifestyle, including testimony from people like Kendra Wyatt, Pramod Khosla, Sally Fallon Morell, Morton Satin, Dr. Richard Feinman, Adele Hite, Dr. Jeff Volek, Kathryne Pirtle, Linda Eckhardt (on behalf of Dr. John Salerno), Alyce Ortuzar, and myself. The ten of us represented 20 percent of the testimonies given–a staggering number considering how much the low-carb message was pretty much given the shaft by the Committee. And at one stretch during the meeting, four out of six of us were promoting the low-carb message and my testimony was the final one in that group.
So I bet you want to know what I said, huh? Well, they didn’t allow any audio or video recording inside the auditorium at all, so to know exactly what was said you’ll need to refer to the transcript from the meeting. But here’s the basic gist of the testimony I gave before the panel:
My name is Jimmy Moore and I’m from Spartanburg, South Carolina. I stand before you representing literally hundreds of thousands of people who read my “Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb” blog and listen to my podcast each week. So many of us have tried and failed to lose weight and improve our health following what you have told us is the right way to eat. But after years of frustration and disappointment by your Dietary Guidelines that push a low-fat, high-carb, vegetarian diet on us, it was time for a change. Since you said to eat low-fat, we now eat high-fat. Since you have made it clear that you believe carbohydrates are an important part of our diet, we now look at them as being not very important at all. And all those hours of cardiovascular exercise you think we should be doing each week has only led us to do even less. And what has been the result? Weight loss, but more importantly health improvements like nothing we’ve seen before. This should tell you that the monopolistic message you are promoting isn’t the only way to a healthy life. In fact, the whole idea of having Dietary Guidelines that apply to all Americans is about as ludicrous as having one shoe size for everyone. I wear size 13 shoes and I’ll bet most people in this room can’t wear them. The same goes for our diet. We are not the same and each of us needs a customized plan that will work for us. That’s why offering people choices about which plan will work for them is the best way to go. If you fail to recognize this, then we’ll be right back here again in 2015 with even MORE obesity, MORE diabetes, MORE heart disease and many of these same people will be testifying before you again with the exact messages they’re sharing today. And I’ll be back with one simple question to ask you–WHY?
Dr. Volek told me later that with most of the speakers who got up there to give their testimony most of the panel was looking down. But when I was in the heart of my talk, every single eyeball from the Committee was looking at me listening to what I had to say. I have no grand illusions that what I said to them made any difference at all about the inevitability of what will eventually become the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Representing all of the real people out there who have been harmed by what the USDA has said is a healthy diet, I was so happy they got to hear what I had to say. While it won’t change much about what’s coming later this year and what will stand as nutritional law for the next five years, I think they see the handwriting on the wall about their devotion to promoting grains and eschewing fat.
It was pretty neat during the break when so many people came up to me to share their appreciation for what I had to say to the panel. That was gratifying to know that my words were the right message for the right time. In fact, after I returned from the restroom, I saw this big African-American gentleman wearing a security uniform and he was inside the auditorium when I was speaking. He asked me if I had a card so he could check out my web sites later on. The man said he could tell there was something authentic about me unlike most of the others who were there reading from prepared notes. That was an awesome confirmation in my mind that choosing to speak from my heart and letting the words flow freely without abandon was the right choice. I’m glad I did!
So what now? I’m making a push for legislation by my two U.S. Senators and Congressman for a bill permanently detaching the Dietary Guidelines process from the USDA. Nothing will ever change regarding nutritional policy as long as the government agency responsible for protecting the interests of agriculture is kept in charge of it. As Dr. Robert Lustig so eloquently said in my recent interview with him, it’s the fox in charge of the hen house. He added, “Bottom line, the USDA controls the Food Pyramid, the question is WHY?” Why indeed. If you want to take pro-active steps to try to do something about this in time for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, then we need to act NOW! Contact your Senators and Congressmen requesting they sponsor a bill that appoints an all-inclusive commission examining diet and health separated from the heavy influence of the United States Department of Agriculture. We could perhaps let the United States Health & Human Services handle the details of this important public health policy task to find the brightest and best health experts who do not have a financial stake involved in the creation of nutritional recommendations that work. This is the way it should be and the sooner we act on this the better since the health of innocent Americans who are still blindly following the Dietary Guidelines is at risk. Let’s stand up for them and make our voices heard. I had my say at the USDA and now you can have your say to make a difference in the years to come.