Denise Minger: Death by Food Guide Pyramid

Read the Transcript

Jonathan: Hey everybody, Jonathan Bailor back – with an extra special bonus Smarter Science of Slim Show. The reason I say extra special is today’s guest is one of those guests that has a special place in my heart because not only is she an inspiration for me, but she and I have had a “relationship” and by relationship I mean we’ve exchanged emails – like three or four years really when both of us first came on to the Internet scene in a somewhat noticeable way – her much more than I at the time given her amazing blog work and it’s just been a wonderful journey together and I also learned and we’re going to prove this during the show that we both can say the Alphabet backwards, which we will prove on the show today and she is non-other than the author of the epic and upcoming book, “Death by Food Pyramid: How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Ruined Your Health” and How to Reclaim It.” She is the – Denise Minger. Denise, welcome to the show.

Denise: Thank you so much. Hi Jonathan.

Jonathan: Hey, well, Denise, I just realized something. We’re not recording video, I guess even if we could we could sort of cheat the system here, but this whole saying the Alphabet backwards is an ambitious claim, but because we’re behind computers, people will be like well, you just read it off your screen backwards, so we might have to say it so fast – that we’re proving that we’re actually doing this from memory.

Denise: I’m up for the challenge.

Jonathan: Are you up for it? Okay, so I’m going to do a three, two, one –

Denise: Okay.

Jonathan: And then we’re going to do the Alphabet backwards quickly.

Denise: Okay.

Jonathan: Are you ready?

Denise: Ready.

Jonathan: All right, three, two, one – Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T, S, R, Q, P, O, N, M, L, K, J, I, H, G, F, E, D, C, B, A.

Denise: Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T, S, R, Q, P, O, N, M, L, K, J, I, H, G, F, E, D, C, B, A.

Jonathan: Boom — first ever tandem backwards Alphabet recording ever.

Denise: It’s a very important skill.

Jonathan: That is a Guinness Book of World Records –

Denise: Oh, yeah.

Jonathan: For most Alphabet said backwards simultaneously by two authors who are releasing books in the same day – ever.

Denise: Kind of miraculous.

Jonathan: Well, Denise, on to more important subjects.

Denise: I don’t know if that’s not important.

Jonathan: So, obviously all the listeners of the show know and love you for your awesome work to debunk bad science and before we dig into the book itself, which of course, everyone needs to grab a copy of and that’s “Death by Food Pyramid” comes out the same exact say as the Calorie Myth, so you got the wonderful one — two punch there coming out on New Year’s Eve, “Death by Food Pyramid.”

Again grab a copy, but Denise, what I wanted to focus on today was two things. The first question is, over the past year, I have had the fortune to chat with some amazing people on the show. People with varied divergent beliefs, right? I mean I’ve had Dr. Campbell, who obviously knows of you and you know of him on the show twice and I’m amazed to see, so there’s really smart people in the world. You’re a smart person. There’s a lot of smart people. How do we have smart people who believe — it’s not even as if there’s ambiguity, it’s like this smart person thinks white, this smart person says black is true — like with absolute certainty. Smart people are saying opposite things. How do we make sense of that in our brain?

Denise: It’s one of those things that’s incredibly challenging. Also, for me to interact with different people who have these widely different beliefs, but they’re so confident about it and they have so much intelligence and I think it’s kind of a symptom of the fact that nutritional science, as well as many of our other fields are still kind of in their dark ages and I think there’s still so much that we’re learning about food, about health — it’s very difficult to conduct studies that are truly conclusive, especially with humans and I think there’s just more grays than most people realize and so when two people approach the same set of data or they look at the same topic, first of all they’re coming in with these, (Inaudible 00:04:33) background in their mind, this context that they’ve already conceived it, that’s the way they look at things, but at the same time, there’s really a lot of question marks that still exist, but I think there’s room for these divergent opinions to co-exist in ways that – I don’t know I still struggle with it too, but I know exactly what you’re talking about.

Jonathan: And it’s – it’s not presented as gray and that’s the thing –

Denise: Yeah.

Jonathan: Hurts my mind a little bit, right, what I hear people say is just point blank, things like the following, which of course you’re familiar with, animal protein causes cancer, saturated fat causes heart disease, like those are not ambiguous claims, they are incredibly confident claims and then you pop over to another person’s blog who is just as smart and potentially just as qualified. It literally says the opposite. So like what do we do as a consumer?

Denise: I say the first thing we need to keep in mind is that most human beings are uncomfortable with ambiguity. So, if you’re presented with a situation that is a gray zone there’s times in-built tendency to see things in black and white and I think for a lot of people there’s this discomfort in question marks and not knowing and admitting that we’re not certain about something, so when people approach nutrition in particular, I think we just have a tendency to go with the thing that either confirms our pre-existing beliefs or the first thing that we see that looks like it could be true to us and we just latch on to that and that becomes our reality at that point. It’s very difficult to entertain different ideas and I guess acknowledge where our confidence is limited. I think that people just have a tendency to choose a side.

Jonathan: In the spirit of choosing a side I’m curious as to which side you will choose and why to those two questions, one, does animal protein cause cancer and two, does saturated fat cause heart disease?

Denise: I’d have to say generally speaking no to both. I do think with this goes back to being there being some gray zones and I think that different people and this is something I was reading a lot about when I was researching my latest book, my only book I guess – and that is there’s different genetic components to how we handle saturated fat when we metabolize it we have that (Inaudible 00:06:53) people who react differently to different forms of fat including saturated fat and so there might be like a – I think you can link together different pieces to say, well in a certain context these foods might have a certain affect than with meat there’s always issues with how it’s prepared and different carcinogens forming during different cooking methods. The blanket statement of animal protein causes cancer and saturated fat causes heart disease, not only are they untrue, but I think they’ve really done the entire nutrition field a disservice.

Jonathan: And it also seems Denise, this now leads into the second big question which is this position of no, animal protein does not just cause cancer and no, saturated fat does not just cause heart disease is still thought of as contrarianwhen for example, the Harvard Medical School has published in the Journal of the American Medical Association statements saying like saturated fat does not cause heart disease and have gone on record saying that we did giant meta-analyses and like for example, the Women’s Health Initiative Study, those who ate the most protein had — there was no problem there, so you’ve got these giant mainstream institutions also making these statements yet it’s still considered the contrarian point of view. What’s going on there?

Denise: I think that is a testament to how deeply ingrained conventional wisdom has become in the American conscious and I think if you look at our history of dietary guidelines we’ve had this low progression starting after the 1950s with Ancel Keys and his stuff, moving towards condemning saturated fat and it’s so hard to undo these things that have been repeated so many times, that we’ve ended up accepting them as truth. In psychology there’s actually something called the truths — a delusion of truth effect, which happens when you hear a statement repeated enough times, it doesn’t matter where you heard it, it doesn’t matter if it was actually true or not, you end up accepting it as fact, just because it’s so (Inaudible 00:08:58).

I think in the case of a lot of our beliefs right now, like you need to whole grains to be healthy and you need to limit your saturated fat to avoid heart disease, they have had so much momentum over the course of many decades that even these new things coming out that seem to undo that, it’s almost not enough yet. It’s like we’re going to have to wait I think decades at this point again maybe before the mainstream hops on board with a new line of thought.

Jonathan: And even the people who advocate it I’m sure if anyone else in the world knows this, you certainly do. I mean in the USDA’s giant guidelines document for example, they acknowledge there is no absolute requirement for carbohydrate for human health and they say that. They say that openly, but it doesn’t seem to affect their recommendations.

Denise: No, the recommendations are not based on science alone, unfortunately, and I’m not someone who thinks that when or even when most people should be on a low carbohydrate diet. I think that there’s a lot of avoidance to tell a diet to be healthy regardless of macronutrient content, but in case of the USDA and these guidelines that keep coming out, they’re basically being bullied by the food industry to avoid saying certain things, to avoid discouraging Americans from eating less of anything. If you look carefully at the way things are phrased, it’s all choose more lean meats, it’s not saying eat less red meat, it’s saying moderate your sugar intake, not eat less sugar and it’s very interesting and there’s (Inaudible 00:010:31) rhetoric if you look at how their guidelines are phrased and I think it discloses their bias pretty heavily.

Jonathan: After all of this research, Denise, the book I believe does an amazing job of this and correct me if I’m wrong, of this, because I’m just getting into it now, is this historical account of what went wrong, but I’m curious, you do have that and how to reclaim it so with this really objective — that’s what you’re known for, you’re known for being objective and just looking at the data and communicating the data, what came out the other end in terms of the recommendations? What should the recommendations be from our government —

Denise: I personally don’t think our government should be giving any recommendations on the topic of health. I think the problem occurs when you’re trying to prescribe the universal diet to an incredibly diverse population. People with different health histories with different backgrounds, different needs, nutritionally and to say that everyone can eat an identical assortment of foods and have the same reaction to it physically I think is, just hog wash.

I think that you really need to focus more on individual variation and respecting where each person finds success with a certain diet versus another person, and so anytime the government is going to give out these blanket recommendations, it’s going to be targeted hopefully to the majority, but there’s always going to be these people on either end of the bell curve who are going to get left in the dust and who hear the recommendations even if they were great recommendations are not going to have the intended affect.

So, my whole thought with the government you know they can stick with supporting agriculture, if they need to obviously the USDA needs to support farmers and whatnot for the economy, but the whole — let’s have the government interfere with what we’re eating – I just don’t think it’s possible for that to work out well.

Jonathan: And that certainly makes sense and that said, if the government isn’t making guidelines like people are going to get and seek out guidelines from somewhere.

Denise: Right.

Jonathan: Certainly, so whoever’s doing it what would you think those guidelines should be?

Denise: First of all, I’d say just as acore recommendation people really need to avoid vegetable oils, highly industrially processed high omega 6 stuff that’s just in everything these days, pretty much all of the cheapest foods that the government subsided, I think are the things that we need to avoid, we find corn in grain products, high fructose corn syrup, sugar added to things, and I think we really need to move back maybe a century or two or three or four or whatever, and look at the foods that are the most nutrient dense, eat the entire animal if you’re going to be an omnivore, choose vegetables that are fresh, have your own garden, I’m really hesitant to make a blanket recommendation for everyone, but I think that just avoiding these highly modern foods that really have coincided with our rapid health decline – I think just doing that alone is a great step for anybody.

Jonathan: Denise, that’s such a reasonable – that seems to be the single most reasonable and intuitively correct explanation anyone could give, right – eat the things that we ate before we had these problems.

Denise: Right.

Jonathan: But why doesn’t that message seem to stick? It makes so much sense.

Denise: I have no idea. It makes so much sense. People don’t like things that make sense. We shouldn’t have to make it more complicated. A big part of this I think the pill mentality that has pervaded society which is that, let’s just take a pill for things that are giving us a problem. Let’s just have these quick fixes, let’s just keep eating these junky foods that taste good and are kind of feeling addictive and treat them ourselves with statins and with medications, high blood pressure medications and all of that instead of actually getting to the root of the problem and I think the reason we don’t hear the simple advice, even though it makes so much sense is because we’re having all of these competing voices from big industries kind of taking over the bullhorn and telling us different things.

Jonathan: Based on this research you’ve done, Denise, if let’s say I’m a single mother and I don’t have a lot of money and I don’t have a lot of time and for example, I have to choose between eating conventionally raised and prepared meat – like that’s it, I’m either going to eat or I’m not going to be eating meat because I can’t afford anything else. What would be your recommendation in that content?

Denise: That’s always a tough one and I know a lot of people are in that kind of situation. I know Robb Wolf has a good recommendation which I kind of agree which is that if you’re going to go with conventional meats, choose lean meats to avoid the toxin buildup in the fat and then just add supplementary fat from other sources if you can get it, but in that case — this is actually something I tend to do because I’m not a big meat eater myself. My diet’s actually mostly plant based, which is very ironic, what I do is I focus on the parts of the animal that are the most nutrient dense which is the liver and the other organ meats to make bone broth, and for people who don’t have a lot of money and don’t have access to really high quality animals, I would stay focused on getting the most nutrition out of the animals you can access. A lot of times you can find organ meats for very inexpensive. Much cheaper than muscle meats and so for people who are in that situation, I don’t think that high meat intake is going to be necessary, but to cover the nutritional bases, just focus on the parts of the animal that are going to supply the most nutrition for the least amount of money.

Jonathan: Denise, moving on now to specifically this book, “Death by Food Pyramid” which is a wonderful title. What is your hope for this book? What is the hope, the outcome you want this book to have on society?

Denise: I want people to think. Honestly, and not just about the USDA’s recommendations, not just about the conventional wisdom, but I want people to really critically evaluate all of the things they hear about their health and that includes things from the alternative health communities, including communities I generally support like the ancestralhealth movement.

I think that our biggest deficiency right now is that people will just kind of osmotically absorb the information that’s surrounding them without ever putting it through own filters and we tend to get intimidated by people with PHDs and people who have a lot more credentials that we have and we tend to think that science is this big lofty thing that’s kind of floating (Inaudible 00:017:08) and that we as lay people cannot access it unless we have gone through a lot of schooling and that we paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a PHD education.

What I really want to do is I want to open and bridge the gap between the general public and science and nutritional science in particular because right now I just feel like people are afraid almost of accessing this knowledge that’s out there and it’s because I think we doubt ourselves and because we’ve never been taught that we have our own personal power to understand these things. So, really I just want the book to empower people to think critically and to take their health into their own hands instead of outsourcing it to whatever guru expert they come across.

Jonathan: When you say taking your health into your own hands, Denise, that is such a powerful message because I’m sure you experienced the same kind of thing, which is this daily inundation of very specific and nuance questions, like, are sweet potatoes good or bad? And it’s kind of like, well, when you eat sweet potatoes, does it help you reach your goals, or does it hurt you or stop you from reaching your goals rather than this global statement for all people ever in any circumstance ever, should they eat sweet potatoes or not? That doesn’t seem like it’s necessarily even a productive conversation to have. It seems like the productive conversation is are sweet potatoes helping me to achieve my specific goals?

Denise: Exactly. I think that’s a big problem right now is we have kind of divided a lot of foods into this segregated list of good versus bad and I think that does a disservice to what the entire understanding of nutrition and I think that does a disservice to people who are trying to get healthy because that good and bad distinction is often again, it’s like a shaded gray thing and I think it’s another expression of this black and white thinking. So, I definitely agree with that.

Jonathan: Well, Denise, you’ve got this book coming out on the 31st, New Year’s Eve, “Death by Food Pyramid How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Ruined Your Health” and how to reclaim it, so what is next for you in 2014? Is it a giant skywriting tour to help people learn how to understand – what’s coming up next for you?

Denise: Sleeping a lot.

Jonathan: Nice.

Denise: Sleeping a lot. I’m kind of in recovery mode right now, as you’ve probably experienced. Writing a book is a very draining experience and I think there tends to be a period after that where you just have to take care of yourself for awhile. I really would like to get back into blogging more frequently. I just posted the other day the first blog I posted in over a year and a half and it felt very good to write it. It felt very good to post it and I was interacting with the wonderful people out there who are exploring the same topics I’m interested in, so I’d really like to continue blogging.

I’m hoping to speak at some conferences and I don’t know if I’ll be doing a tour or whatever, but it’s kind of a question mark right now, so who knows?

Jonathan: Well, Denise, I am going to put you on the spot here and I’m going to try to enroll you in a movement that I think you are already supporting based on Page 224, of your book. So, Page 224 of your book has this fabulous drawing that would only be created by someone like Denise because she has that awesome left brain action going on and it’s these three or four overlapping triangles that basically show how diets which are presented to us as completely different and mutually exclusive things, have a lot in common. So, Denise, how much do you think – how passionate are you about trying to get people who all agree that processed garbage is bad and things you find in nature are better than that to work together to get the 99 percent of the American population who does not yet know or believe that to be healthier and not die?

Denise: I think that’s awesome. Yeah, no, I think that’s exactly what we need right now. We need to stop arguing with each other because that’s really holding back a lot of our progression in terms of what we’re learning and how we’re moving forward with our understanding of nutrition because we have all this rivalry diet communities and it’s just like you’re wrong, no, you’re wrong and you’re wrong and we fail to see that central core that we can all focus on and that’s the message we should be spreading instead of focusing so much on attacking each other.

Jonathan: You’re so spot on Denise. I often wonder – I don’t actually see this as happening, but I often wonder if General Foods has someone who just goes on to blogs and Internet discussion boards and like riles up the Internet nutrition community so that they’ll just spend their time arguing with each other, while they kill millions of people a year on their processed garbage.

Denise: If they don’t have that as a strategy now they probably will after you said that.

Jonathan: It’s like oh, yeah, you guys keep in-fighting, we’ll just go over here and it’s only 140 calories, folks, not that bad for you. Denise, well, I love it. Where can folks go to learn more about you and the new book, “Death by Food Pyramid?

Denise: My blog is, and I think I have the domain as well that redirects there so you can try that if that’s easier and my book is available on Amazon. It should be available in major retail stores I think starting after January 1st and right now you can actually get it mailed to you sooner from Mark’s Daily Apple, or from, and if you go there, there’s an option to order the book and I think you get some freebies if you order it before December 31st or by December 31st, so those are your options for reading that and other than that, people can email me or do whatever they want and send bottled messages or smoke signals.

Jonathan: I love it. Well, Denise, thank you so much for joining us today for the massive amount of time, of course, folks this is now old news, if you haven’t read Denise’s work that she’s made freely available to the world that has to do with a very popular book that was published many moons ago, I mean she’s an amazing woman. She’s an amazing example for all of us, so I just so appreciate all the time and effort you put into frankly saving lives, Denise, so kudos to you and friends please go check out “Death by Food Pyramid” if it is at all like Denise’s previous work, which I’m sure it is, it is fabulous. So, Denise Minger again, thank you so much for joining us today.

Denise: Thank you so much for having me.

Jonathan: Listeners, I hope you enjoyed this wonderful conversation as much as I did. Again, today’s guest, the brilliant Denise Minger, her book, “Death by Food Pyramid,” check it out and remember, this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter and live better. Chat with you soon.