The role of the failed food pyramid in causing obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes

Fast Facts On Obesity„„


Since the early 1960s, the prevalence of obesity among adults more than doubled, increasing from 13.4 to 35.7 percent in U.S. adults age 20 and older. Currently, 68.8% of all adults in the United States are either overweight or obese!

The rate of rise of obesity, unfortunately, correlates with the misguided recommendations from the USDA in the form of the now withdrawn and failed food pyramid. Although the intention of the food pyramid was to promote healthy eating and weight loss, it in fact, did the opposite of what it intended to do by contributing to a new problem – insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome.  Before we look at how this happened, let’s take a look at the staggering Obesity Numbers.

Alarming Statistics Of Obesity

More than 2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight or

    „„More than 1 in 3 adults are considered to be obese„„
    More than 1 in 20 adults are considered to have extreme obesity
    „„About one-third of children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be overweight or obese„„
    More than 1 in 6 children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be obese.
    • More than two-thirds (68.8 percent) of adults are considered to be overweight or obes


    More than one-third (35.7 percent) of adults are considered to be obese.„„
    More than 1 in 20 (6.3 percent) have extreme obesity.„„Almost 3 in 4 men (74 percent) are considered to be overweight or obese.„„
    The prevalence of obesity is similar for both men and women (about 36 percent)   „„
    About 8 percent of women are considered to have extreme obesity.
    Source: Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2009–2010 2,3


What really caused this enormous rise of Obesity?

While the Government might want to make you believe it is your fault you are overweight or obese, as a physician trained in Obesity Medicine, I will show you the contribution by the Government to this problem. Obviously, there are multiple reasons for Obesity but here are the most important in my opinion.

In 1992, The USDA made a nice looking food Pyramid. old-and-failed-food-pyramid-from-usda

In May 2011, the USDA released a graphic called “My Plate” to help people choose what foods to eat. This new guideline is meant to replace the old “Food Pyramid” that many people grew up with. Remember the triangle shape with the bread, cereal, and rice at the bottom and the fats and oils to be “used sparingly” at the top? This useless and misleading food pyramid, which has been confusing consumers for over 25 years, has advocated a philosophy of eating more grains and other less “fatty” foods.

What the Food Pyramid failed to do was to differentiate simple versus complex sugars. It also placed undue importance on grain-based products. Grain-based “simple carbohydrates” such as breads, potatoes, rice, cereal and pasta, although often low in fat, also rate high on the glycemic index. That means that they break down quickly in the body, overwhelming the blood with sugars and potentially leading to a phenomenon called “insulin resistance.” 

Affecting up to one in every three Americans, insulin resistance is very common and can lead to difficulty losing weight, pre-diabetes, or type II diabetes, heart disease and other long-term health problems associated with obesity. With the new “My Plate” guidelines and some other tips, more Americans may be able to avoid these unhealthy complications.

What is Insulin Resistance? adam

Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body produces insulin, but does not use it properly. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps the body use glucose (natural sugar) for energy. When people are insulin resistant, their muscle, fat, and liver cells do not respond properly to insulin. As a result, their bodies need more insulin to help glucose enter cells.

The pancreas tries to keep up with this increased demand for insulin by producing more. Eventually, it becomes overworked and may no longer be able to meet that demand. Excess glucose builds up in the bloodstream, setting the stage for diabetes.

Many people with insulin resistance have high levels of both glucose and insulin circulating in their blood at the same time. Learning about insulin resistance is the first step toward making lifestyle changes that can help prevent diabetes and other health problems.

Read this related and well written article on why the new MyPlate from the USDA is a ‘”Lipstick On A Pig

By advocating a grain based, low fatty diet, over a protein based hunter gatherer diet that we evolved on, the USDA’s food pyramid contributed to insulin resistance. Unfortunately, up to 71 percent of the population has insulin resistance that leads to compensatory increase in the production of this hormone in order to keep the blood sugars under control.

This compensation is what makes you gain weight especially in the belly and upper part of the body as insulin is an “anabolic” or body building hormone. It also leads to a new problem called metabolic syndrome that one in three adults have. Thanks to USDA, all our understanding about healthy foods was skewed as we look at fat as unhealthy although there are many people groups such as those in the polar regions that eat up to 80 percent of their diet as fat and they do not get the cardiovascular diseases we do. This is because, although fat can make you gain weight, it would not lead to insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome.

Why I think the food pyramid contributed to your increased weight gain? obesity graph bySex

By advocating foods high in carbohydrates in the name of “low fat” foods, it directly contributed to our misguided views about fat which does not cause the problems they accuse it does. For example, our views about cholesterol and fat were heavily influenced by this food pyramid but the truth is that up to 70 percent of the body’s cholesterol is made in the liver and only 30 percent comes from the diet. By going “low fat”, low cholesterol in the diet, we were steered to a more grain based diets that cause insulin resistance over time. Since insulin resistance means we compensate by increasing the production of this hormone called insulin, we not only gain weight due to the anabolic effects of insulin, but it can also make our cholesterol profiles worse.

Why high insulin levels leads to cholesterol problems?

Insulin is an inducer of the enzyme in the liver called HMG coA reductase, which is a key enzyme in the production of cholesterol in the liver. Since up to 70 percent of the body’s cholesterol is manufactured in the liver while only about 30 percent comes from the diet, high levels of insulin induce this key enzyme called HMG CoA reductase leading to worsening of the cholesterols – this happens despite the patient eating a low fat, low cholesterol, so called “healthy diet”. (The popular cholesterol medications such as Lipitor inhibit this enzyme HMG C0A Reductase.)

How we evolved as Hunters and Gatherers

We were hunter and gatherers used to a diet rich in lean meats, eggs, vegetables, nuts, fruits, roots, and other naturally grown foods without the grain based agriculture products.  Agriculture is only about 5,000-10,000 years old it is a relatively short period for us to adapt to this type of diet that is poor in nutritional quality and has many deficiencies.

Read this excellent paper titled “Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword” by Loren Cordain, PhD

In this paper, the author points out that cereal grains lack a number of nutrients which are essential for human health and well-being; additionally they contain numerous vitamins and minerals with low biological availability. Furthermore, the inability of humans to physiologically overcome cereal grain antinutrients (phytates, alkylresorcinols, protease inhibitors, lectins, etc.) is indicative of the evolutionary novelty of this food for our species. This genetic maladaptation between human nutrient quirements and those nutrients found in cereal grains manifests itself as vitamin and mineral deficiencies and other nutritionally related disorders, particularly when cereal grains are consumed in excessive quantity.

More disturbing is the ability of cereal grain proteins (protease inhibitors, lectins, opioids and storage peptides) to interact with and alter human physiology. These interactions likely occur because of physiological similarities (resultant from phylogenetic commonalities) shared between humans and many herbivores which have traditionally preyed upon the gramineae family.