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Rebuilding the Pyramids

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Udo Erasmus, author of <FATS Heal, Fats that Kill>Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill</EM> (alive<ALIVE></EM> books, 1993), was touring Japan in January 2003 when he saw the latest edition of Newsweek.

Udo Erasmus, author of Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill (alive books, 1993), was touring Japan in January 2003 when he saw the latest edition of Newsweek.

The cover story - “Building a Better Way to Eat" - featured an alternative to the USDA food pyramid called the “Healthy Eating Pyramid,” devised by Walter Willett and colleagues at the Harvard University School of Public Health.

Erasmus was impressed with Willett’s work, but said to himself, “Man, this is so complicated…I can do better than that!” Inspired by the article, Erasmus developed a new pyramid. Then he created four more, to account for various states of health, as well as to explain the importance of food processing and preparation.

What’s Wrong With the Old Food Pyramid?

The USDA food pyramid shares many similarities with Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating. In both, carbohydrates - in the form of breads, grain products, and cereals - are the largest food group. In Canada, other food groups follow in descending order: vegetables and fruits, milk products, and meat and alternatives. Sweets, fats, and junk foods are labelled as foods we should “use in moderation.”

Making carbohydrates the cornerstone of our diet was a mistake, says Erasmus. “What we’ve been told for the last 20 years is ‘Reduce the fats in your diet, and increase your intake of carbohydrates,? he says. “This was wrong. We should have been told to never eat more carbohydrates than we are able to burn. After 20 years of increasing carbohydrates and lowering fat, obesity has more than doubled and childhood obesity has more than tripled.” Erasmus cautions that excess carbohydrates not only add extra pounds; they are the root of other ailments, including type II diabetes and highly unstable blood glucose levels, which can cause dizziness, mood swings, tiredness, and irritability. He asserts that low blood sugar causes many traffic accidents and is responsible for the misdiagnosis of attention-deficient problems in children.

The importance of healthy fats is also ignored in Canada’s food guide, says Erasmus. “Fats help to suppress appetite; they don’t affect your blood sugar in the same way that carbs do. That, in itself, is a major benefit. Plus, your body can use fats as fuel.”

“Atkins figured that out,” Erasmus continues, raising a caution, “but he didn’t care about the quality of fats. Fried meats like bacon can lead to all the heart and health problems associated with the increased intake of saturated fats, including increased cancer risk.”

Erasmus’s solution is a food choice pyramid that looks like this.

See Udo's Pyramids

Level One: Green, Nonstarchy Vegetables and Fruit

The base of Udo’s pyramid calls for nine daily servings of vegetables and one serving of fruit. “Green foods are the single-most important food on the planet,” says Erasmus. “They are a source of fuel, and give us all of the components of health, including phytonutrients.”
Fruit plays a much less significant role, simply because of its sugar content. Erasmus suggests we be guided by nature’s growing cycles. “If you think about fruit versus greens - there’s not a lot of fruit growing between October and June - but there are always greens available.”

Level Two: Good Fats and Proteins

After we eat our vegetables, it’s time for good fats and proteins. This can be a real hurdle for many of us, who have been taught to fear fats.

Erasmus agrees. “Twenty years ago we were told that we should eat a low-fat diet. What we should have been told is to eat fewer fats and more fats,” he says. Eating the right types of fats improves health and burns stored fat. These “good fats” are obtained primarily from seeds, nuts, and fatty fish, and many are also a good source of protein.

Good fats supply essential fatty acids, mainly in the form of omega-3s and -6s.

Essential means we can’t make ’em, and we gotta have ’em,” Erasmus says.

“They are our most serious nutrient deficiency. Every cell, every tissue, and every organ needs them.”

Erasmus sings the praises of omega-3s to decrease inflammation, autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure, cholesterol, sticky platelets, cancer risk, diabetes risk, fatigue, and arthritis. He also says omega-3s can improve brain function, elevate mood, and improve concentration. So pass the trail mix, will you?

Level Three: Carbohydrates and Processed Fats

Our energy is obtained from the fuel carbohydrates supply. Any fuel that we don’t burn is stored as fat, a useful genetic feature developed from our history surviving feast and famine.

Udo’s pyramid may be starting to sound a lot like a low-carb diet, but he insists it’s not. “What I’m saying is to limit your carbs to what you can actually burn. Burn them or wear them is what we say. That’s why variations of the pyramids are needed according to the health of the individual.”

One variation, the “unhealthy” pyramid, advises the elderly, the overweight, and anyone else with pressing health issues to cut back on carbohydrates even further, and to include more good fats. Another variation, the “healthy” or “athletic” pyramid allows the individual to consume more carbohydrates (because they’re able to burn them and may require more for fuel) and more protein, while still consuming good fats.

How do we know what the right amount is? “You do the pinch test,” says Erasmus, squeezing his side. “If it comes up full, you’re wearing them, and you need to cut back.”

Level Four: White Foods and Burned Foods

The biggest villains on Udo’s pyramid are the foods that North Americans probably eat most - refined, highly processed, deep-fried, baked, and charbroiled foods.

Erasamus deplores the consumption of refined foods such as white sugar, white flour, and what he calls the “white oils” - commercially refined vegetable oils - that have been stripped of their essential nutrients through processing.

Burned or brown foods are foods that have been excessively heated - through baking, frying, barbequing, or charbroiling. This also includes hydrogenated or “hard” oils. “The chemical nature of these foods has been altered,” says Erasmus, “and they are disease causing and toxic.”
He suggests that we reduce or avoid these foods completely.

The “Lost” Pyramids

Two secondary pyramids - the “processing” and the “preparation” pyramids - relate to the form in which we eat our food. They underline the importance of eating a diet rich in whole, raw foods with minimal processing. Not only do they provide a greater variety of nutrients, they also put us back in touch with what Erasmus calls our “natural genetic program for health.” Those who eat many cooked or processed foods should supplement their diets with the fibre, enzymes, antioxidants, and probiotics they are missing.

Some may find changing their diets - and their thinking - a challenge. But Erasmus says it’s up to the individual. “People have to recognize that it’s their responsibility. First they get educated about the choices, but then they have to make the right choices. Is that difficult? No, I’m here to provide information for people who’ve decided that this is important for them.”

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