Page last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy
by Walter Willett M.D.
In his book, Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, Walter Willett, Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School disassembles the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Pyramid and replaces it with one based in part on years of research done at Harvard School of Public Health and the Harvard Medical School. Commenting on why he wrote the book, Willett commented"We now have more than 20 years of research looking at the long-term health consequences of diets. This work has been published in many scientific journals, but I wanted to gather the material together in one place that was accessible and understandable." Willett believes there is a lot of misinformation and that the public has received messages that have not been borne out by research. An example is women being told to drink milk to strengthen their bones and prevent osteoporosis, but long-term studies have not shown reduced risk of fractures with high dairy intake. Willett believes the USDA food pyramid is based on shaky scientific ground; "the Food Pyramid is tremendously flawed. It says all fats are bad; all complex carbohydrates are good; all protein sources offer the same nutrition; and dairy should be eaten in high amounts. None of this is accurate."

Willett believes the main problem with the US diet today is too many calories, whether from fat or carbohydrates, in relation to our level of physical activity."Trans fat is also a major problem. This kind of fat is found in many kinds of margarine and other foods, especially fast food, but it is actually worse for your arteries than lard. Americans, particularly teens, are eating large amounts of it in the form of fried, fast food. Trans fat developed from the notion that saturated fats are not good for you, so therefore, anything else must be better, and margarine was promoted. Trans fat not only increases levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the bloodstream, but it also decreases levels of ‘good’ cholesterol."

A relatively new concern is glycemic load, which results from carbohydrates that increase blood sugar levels. The USDA Food Pyramid promotes eating complex carbohydrates without differentiating among them, but there are major differences between carbohydrates. For example, the body breaks down glucose in a potato more rapidly than pure sugar, spiking glucose levels in the blood and increasing the risk of diabetes.

Willett goes to say a common mistake that people make when they try to eat more healthily is to cut out all fat. "The USDA has promoted the strategy, but it can be really dangerous. Not all fats are bad and, in fact, some should be required in any diet. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in foods such as nuts, avocados, fish, olives, and most oils help lower ‘bad’ cholesterol levels without affecting ‘good’ cholesterol levels.People also tend to replace fat in their diets with foods high in sugar or refined carbohydrates. A lot of people think that a plain bagel with jam can be a healthy thing to eat in the morning, but actually that is one of the unhealthiest duos you can eat because it has a high glycemic load. You’d be better off with scrambled eggs cooked in corn oil or a whole-grain cereal."  

Eat Drink and be Healthy ISBN 068486337-5 is published by Simon and Schuster for copies visit
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