The Diet Debacle

For many years, the food industry has encouraged consumers to believe that mixing carbohydrates and fats is healthy, and that sugar can be part of a balanced diet. But these maxims are at the root of the increasingly global epidemic of metabolic disease.

SAN FRANCISCO – Two seemingly benign nutritional maxims are at the root of all dietary evil: A calorie is a calorie, and You are what you eat. Both ideas are now so entrenched in public consciousness that they have become virtually unassailable. As a result, the food industry, aided and abetted by ostensibly well-meaning scientists and politicians, has afflicted humankind with the plague of chronic metabolic disease, which threatens to bankrupt health care worldwide.

The United States currently spends $147 billion on obesity-related health care annually. Previously, one could have argued that these were affluent countries’ diseases, but the United Nations announced last year that chronic metabolic disease (including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and dementia) is a bigger threat to the developing world than is infectious disease, including HIV.

These two nutritional maxims give credence to the food industry’s self-serving corollaries: If a calorie is a calorie, then any food can be part of a balanced diet; and, if we are what we eat, then everyone chooses what they eat. Again, both are misleading.

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