Then (1950) and Now (2010): What changed, the science or the politics?

| September 13, 2012
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In the U.S. in 1950, obesity and diabetes were not public health problems. In 1980, USDA issued the first-ever low fat Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In 2010 – the same year that even more stringent anti-fat Dietary Guidelines were reaffirmed – the CDC in Atlanta referred to diabetes as a dangerous “run-away-train.”
What happened between 1950 and 2010 to explain the unprecedented increase in diabetes that is now affecting an astonishing 25 percent of the population?


Comparing USDA’s Home & Garden Bulletin No. 1 – Family Fare – food management and recipes  (February 1950) with information from the low fat 2010 Dietary Guidelines (, you will note a seismic shift in nutritional advice between 1950 and 2010. Did the science change during these decades or has the politics changed. Please, compare and decide…

When you could fill up for a dollar or two, obesity and diabetes were not public health problems. Today they are Twin Tower epidemics!

1.     Nutrition Goals

1950:  Are you one of the country’s 33,000,000 homemakers trying to do a blue-ribbon job of feeding your family well? This booklet offers suggestions to help you serve enjoyable meals to keep your family well nourished, to practice thrift when need be, and to save time and energy where you can.

2010:  Eating and physical activity patterns that are focused on consuming fewer calories, making informed food choices, and being physically active can help people attain and maintain a healthy weight, reduce their risk of chronic disease, and promote overall health.


1950:  The right food helps you to be at your best in health & vitality. An individual well fed from babyhood has a more likely chance to enjoy a long prime of life. [emphasis mine]

2010:  Enjoy your food, but eat less. Use a smaller plate, bowl, and glass. That way you can finish your entire plate and feel satisfied without overeating. [our behavior is the issue?]

2.     Complete Protein

1950:  You get top-rating proteins in foods from animal sources, as in meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk and cheese. Some of these protein foods are needed each day; and it is an advantage to include some in each meal.

2010:  We all need protein—but most Americans eat enough, and some eat more than they need…. Try beans and peas, soy products, nuts and seeds. They are naturally low in saturated fat and high in fiber.

3.     Iron

1950:  One of the essential materials for red blood cells is iron. Liver is outstanding for iron. Some of the other foods that add iron are egg yolks, meat in general, and peas and beans.

2010:  Some ready-to-eat and cooked cereals are fortified with iron.  When you are pregnant, choose these cereals to help meet your increased need for iron.  Choose cereals that say “Iron fortified.” [no mention of the superior quality of heme iron from animal sources]. Also, why do fortified foods now say:  “Reduced Iron”?

Butter is our best daily source of Vitamin A – not mentioned in MyPlate!

4.     Vitamin A

1950:  Vitamin A is important to the young for growth. Many vitamins help protect the body against infection, and Vitamin A’s guard duty is to help keep the skin and linings of the nose, mouth and inner organs in good condition. If these surfaces are weakened, bacteria [and viruses] can invade more easily.

You can get Vitamin A from animal foods. Good sources are liver, egg yolks, butter, whole milk and cream, and cheese made from whole milk or cream.

2010:   Too much vitamin A from supplements can cause birth defects. [that’s all I could find]

Sunshine reaching cholesterol in your skin creates Vitamin D – but if it’s cloudy or wintry?

5.     Vitamin D

1950:  Egg yolk, butter, salmon, tuna and sardines help out with Vitamin D. [lard, the best source of vitamin D was already omitted, reflecting the rising sales of Crisco hydrogenated shortening by 1950.]

2010:  Fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk or soy beverages that are fortified with vitamin D are good sources of this nutrient. Other sources include vitamin D-fortified yogurt and vitamin D-fortified ready-to-eat breakfast cereals.

6.     Meat, poultry

1950:  Meat – there’s nothing else like it – the prized savoriness of meat. But all the skill of good cooking must be brought to bear on retaining this good flavor.  Beef may be cooked rare, medium, or well done.

  • U.S. Choice – Excellent quality and flavor, tender and juicy, good distribution of fat throughout the lean meat.
  • If you buy ungraded beef, you can be reasonably sure of high quality beef when the lean is light red, velvety-appearing, and liberally veined with fat, when bones are red, and the fat is flaky and white.
  • For top quality poultry, look for a plump bird with well-fleshed breast and legs, well distributed fat, and skin that has few blemishes and pinfeathers. Too much fat is wasteful unless used in other dishes such as sauces, gravies, and cookies.

    Chicken fat contains palmitoleic acid, a fatty acid that kills bacteria and viruses. What’s that about removing the skin?

2010:  Choose lean or low-fat cuts of meat like round or sirloin and ground beef that is at least 90% lean.  Trim or drain fat from meat and remove poultry skin.

  •  The leanest beef cuts include…
  • The leanest pork choices include…
  • Choose extra lean ground beef… You may be able to find ground beef that is 93% or 95% lean.
  • Buy skinless chicken parts, or take off the skin before cooking.
  • Boneless skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are the leanest poultry choices.

Lard had 70% of the edible fat market in 1910

7.     Fats, oils

1950:  Plan to use some table fat daily plus other fats as needed in cooking, including butter, bacon, salad oil, salt pork, lard, suet, drippings. [margarine, shortening are also on the list.]

2010:  Most of the fats you eat should be polyunsaturated (PUFA) or monounsaturated (MUFA) fats:  Some commonly eaten oils include:

  • canola oil
  • corn oil
  • cottonseed oil
  • olive oil
  • safflower oil
  • soybean oil
  • sunflower oil

8.     Gravies, sauces

1950:  To make good gravy, you need drippings rich enough to flavor added liquids which may be broth, milk or water.

  • Braised chops: Make gravy with the drippings or pour the drippings over the chops on the platter.
  • Plain dish turns party fare when graced with sauce that’s tangy or mellow – a savory gravy – or a gentle sweetening for dessert

2010:  Using heavy gravies or sauces will add fat and calories to otherwise healthy choices. For example, steamed broccoli is great but avoid topping it with cheese sauce.

9.      Salt, sodium

1950:  Use iodized table salt regularly. [Not much concern about salt]

2010:  Cut back on salt. Your taste for salt will lessen over time. [what does that really mean?]  Foods like soy sauce, ketchup, pickles, olives, salad dressings, and seasoning packets are high in sodium. [but no mention of HFCS].  Popcorn can be a healthy snack. Make it with little or no added salt or butter.  [Remember, butter is our best daily source of vitamin A!]       

10.  Main meal, tips and recipes

1950:   The dish that gets star billing at your table – whether it’s a sizzling steak or tangy cheese casserole – is called the main dish.

  • Recipe for fried liver with bacon. Sprinkle liver with salt, pepper, and flour. Cook in bacon fat at moderate heat.
  • Meat, poultry, and fish offer satisfying flavor and stick-to-the-ribs quality when we’re hungry. And these are the foods that abound in high quality protein.
  • Another hearty trio – milk, cheese, and eggs – are main meal favorites.
  • Pot roast of beef: Rub the meat with salt, pepper and flour, and brown on all sides in a little hot fat in a deep heavy pan with cover.
  • Baste a chicken or turkey several times with melted fat or drippings.
  • Some of the main dishes we like best are combinations. Dear to our hearts are rich brown stews with potatoes or dumplings, chicken with flaky rice, macaroni and cheese.

2010:   Think about how you can adjust the portions on your plate to get more of what you need without too many calories.  Find out how many calories you need for a day as a first step in managing your weight.

  • Regular cream cheese, cream, and butter are not part of the dairy food group. They are high in saturated fat and have little or no calcium. [and that’s why they are not part of the dairy group? Hello!]
  • Use fat-free or low-fat milk on cereal and oatmeal. Top fruit salads and baked potatoes with low-fat yogurt instead of higher fat toppings such as sour cream.
  • Aim to make at least half your grains whole grains.  [other half can be refined just as sugar is refined]
  • Add fruit to meals as part of main or side dishes or as dessert.
  • Canned vegetables are a great addition to any meal.
  • Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as a part of the Fruit Group. [Fruit has a poor nutrient to sugar ratio]
  • Drink 100% orange or grapefruit juice. Or, try a fruit mixed with fat-free or low-fat yogurt.
  • Cut back on foods high in solid fats, added sugars, and salt. [what’s a solid fat – butter until you melt it?]

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Category: Dietary Guidelines

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  1. Peter B. says:

    The U.S. Government is in the process of doing for too many American citizen’s health (especially their welfare-state subjects) what they’ve already accomplished with their other projects, among them Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, and the Post Office.

    Everything the U.S. Government tries to manage ends up bloated and at the same time in deficit. Americans are physically bloated with a growing deficit of healthy fats, vitamins, and insulin producing pancreatic cells. The worst deficit of all is their information deficit. American’s are receiving the proverbial mushroom treatment from the U.S. government and their crony capitalist allies by way of Madison Avenue (i.e. kept in the dark and fed b.s.). So “Cheerios are part of a heart healthy diet”? Or so we are told over, and over, and over again until it becomes deeply imbedded in the subconscious. Oh, but here’s their out-clause: “But you still have to go to the gym”. In other words, “But if you keep getting fatter and fatter, it’s YOUR fault you lazy slob!” This perpetuates the calories-in, calories-out myth, which has been terrifically exposed and explained by author Gary Taubes in his book Why We Get Fat.

  2. Alan Watson says:

    Excellent points Peter. Weight loss depends on calories in balancing calories out was debunked in 1972 by Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution and once again in a scientifically authoritative manner by Gary Taubes in Good Calories Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat. If the medical authorities would simply read these books…

  3. DoctorSH says:

    Its really all about politicians tryin to gain power and influence over voters. Why people believe politicians over doctors when it comes to nutrition is a bit unsettling.
    The food industry tries to gain power and influence over politicians with donations, cronyism and probably other unethical influences.
    So we have big food companies and politicians In a vicious cycle of nutrition spin and who are left out?
    The people who actually buy and eat the food!

    It’s all a game and hopefully those involved meaning us individual’s will take it over and redo the rules before it is too late.

  4. Vesna says:

    A fascinating point-by-point comparison! Thanks. I love the picture of the happy housewife armed against famine with a well-stocked refrigerator: a message of joy and plenty. The contrast of the language of the two eras is striking. The earlier era is an embrace of food and the nourishment and health it brings. The second is filled with dread of food: the less of it you eat — and the less that’s in whatever you do eat — the better off you are.

    I have a question about the underlined phrases (“blue-ribbon job,” etc.) in the 1950 text. Is that emphasis yours, or is it emphasized in the original?

  5. Alan Watson says:

    Thanks for your insight Vesna. Same thing struck me, words of joy and plenty versus bureaucratic low fat “newspeak.” (I did the underlining; otherwise it is word for word from the 1950 booklet!)

  6. jamie says:

    What it is is all the processed, and fortified food. If we all chose to eat the fresh, un processed, food, best if its organic, we wouldn’t be fat. The government is in the pocket of the food and drug administration, the food and drug administration doesn’t make money of we all eat healthy, and aren’t sick. So they put stuff in the food, thatakea us addicted to it, so we need more, then we develop obeseity, diabeties, and other illnesses that require us to buy more drugs. Eat organic. Pass it on. It’s more expensive at first, but the health benefits will out way the cost. Grow your own organic veggies, makes it cheaper.

  7. Noelie says:

    We can blame the government all we want ( trust me I do) but the fact is we need to step up and do, not be the sheep. Blame them for the wrong turn advice but blame yourself for following it- the repent.. yes that is the word and go back to what worked no matter what any of the establishments say.

    I guess I am speaking to the choir though,eh?

  8. Alan Watson says:

    Noelie, you are speaking the truth!

  9. Lezlee says:

    Noelie, I have an elderly client who has an array of major health problems. I told him to please drink more water so he wouldn’t have another pancreatitis attack, impaction, and dehydration issues. I gave him some medical info printed out about pancreatitis and drinking water. He told me that he didn’t really care about how the body works. He’s just not interested but angry that he ends up in the hospital. He has been very successful in business so it’s not that he is dumb. Many folks are just like him. They don’t get it. Not interested at all. Really nothing anyone can do. Medicare pays out the nose on those folks.

  10. Stacey says:

    The Dietary Guidelines for America are what they are in response to the changes in our built environment (less safe sidewalks and neighborhoods), our lack of access to fresh foods (eating more processed/salty foods), and our seditary lifesyles. Sure people could eat pretty much what they wanted in 1950 because the foods were home-made dishes prepared and shared around the dinner table. People in 1950 got much more physical activity (not necessarily exercise, but movement) than they do today. Also, modern food manufacturers and marketers push out foods of convenience and gratification instead of healthy options, and we lap it up. Please don’t demonize the government for trying to make up for problems created by Americans sitting on the couch with our x-boxes and eating processed junk. About 90% of Americans exceed the daily sodium intake recommendations. 77% of that sodium intake comes from processed and restaurant foods — not a problem in 1950.

  11. Julie says:

    Unfortunately, comparing these makes a very weak scientific anything. It leaves far too much out of the equation. A lot more than these changes in statements over time has occurred that could lead to many health and social issues.

  12. Alan Watson says:

    Nothing scientific here. The article is comparing what the federal government (USDA) said about food choices in 1950 compared to 2010. As you may have discerned, the government has gone from emphasizing nutrition, taste & food savoriness to disease avoidance (by eliminating fat from our diets). What else has occurred? The incidence of chronic disease has surged many-fold between 1950 and 2010.

  13. Have a look at this NZ rationing advice from 1944

    They are concerned that people get enough of the real foods. The butter ration was about 1/2 lb per person per week, down from nearly 1lb! And they were advising people to supplement that with dripping.

    Once governments wanted people to be nourished.
    Today, they’re trying to medicate everyone by restricting nutrition; but at the same time, they’re trying to promote the intestests of industry.
    We end up with the most malnourished, obese, sick people in history.

  14. BDL says:

    Nutritional information seems to change every 20-25 years, e.g. butter vs. margarine, eggs, etc. Also, people are less active these days and many are in an urban setting. Yes, government is our nanny. My family averages a life expectancy of 90 and they all ate all of the stuff that is now taboo…..hmmmm….

  15. Cheryl says:

    just fyi, the reason we are reducing iron in fortifyed foods now a days is because weve gotten to the point where children, men, and women past menopause are getting too much iron, which is actually pretty bad for you and can cause heart problems

  16. Alan Watson says:

    I agree. The type of iron we store is principally from ferrous sulfate added to fortified foods. Heme iron in red meat does not pose the same iron storage issues (as far as I know). As the food companies (and government) realized their error, they have now replaced ‘iron’ with ‘reduced iron.’ It would seem to me that its best to avoid these processed, fortified foods altogether!

  17. Ian Jacobs says:

    I understand you have an agenda and dietary prescription that you support (and frankly, I’m on board).

    But it’s unfair to your readers to write articles like this– you’re cherrypicking parts of the 1950s document and acting as if the rest doesn’t exist.

    Let’s look at what the 1950s had to say about Protein, for example:

    “You get top-rating proteins in foods from animal sources,
    as in meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese. Some of these
    protein foods are needed each day; and it is an advantage to
    include some in each meal.
    Next best for proteins are soybeans and nuts and dry
    beans and peas. When these are featured in main dishes,
    try to combine them with a little top-rating protein food, if
    you can.
    The rest of the protein required will then come from cereals,
    bread, vegetables, and fruits. Many American-style dishes,
    such as meat and vegetable stew, egg sandwiches, macaroni
    and cheese, cereal and milk, are highly nourishing combinations.”

    So, it’s not as if the Government has gone from recommending meats, eggs, and fish, to recommending soybeans, beans, and peas. They were doing that back in the 1950s, too– including suggesting getting protein from bread and cereals.

    Other examples: The 1950s article suggests getting Vit A from margarine (“Margarine, a vegetable fat, is nearly always fortified with vitamin A or carotene.”), making sure you eat grains and cereals every day (“Plan to use as the food plan provides: Some every day. Flour or meal made from wheat, corn, oats, buckwheat, rye; cooked and ready-to-eat cereals; rice, barley, hominy, noodles, macaroni; breads, other baked goods.”), and let’s not forget how much they loved their Idaho potatoes back then (“Potatoes and sweetpotatoes contain a number of nutrients. Because of the quantities in which they are eaten white potatoes can become quite important as a source of vitamin G. Sweetpotatoes are valuable for vitamin A in addition to vitamin C.”).

    In other words…I agree with your prescription, but let’s not act as if in the 1950s, it was some mecca of high-fat, low carb diets that has suddenly changed. And don’t forget that a lot of “fortified” products that exist now didn’t exist then, so it’s somewhat disingenuous to suggest, given how many fortified products are already recommended on the 1950s list, that those newer products wouldn’t have been on there had they existed.

    Here’s the original 1950s article, in case anyone is interested in reading the whole thing.

  18. Alan Watson says:

    My article highlighted traditional animal-based foods that are now fingered as culprits behind heart disease and just about every other chronic disease. My intent was to show how – in fact – these healthy, nutrient-dense traditional foods have been exculpated from the American Diet via low fat Dietary Guidelines since 1980.

    I had no intention of reproducing the entire 1950s publication – and I appreciate the fact that you did. (I thank you for linking the document; I had no idea it was available in this form.)

    What is truly disingenuous, however, is not my highlighting the major shift in government dietary guidelines – the intent of my article – but the wholesale neglect and demonization of our traditional animal-based foods found in all Dietary Guidelines since 1980.

    Obviously, people have always eaten peas and vegetable shortening and trans-fat laden margarine had been available as early as the first World War. Cookbooks and government publications such as the one I cited began to mention them. That doesn’t mean I should repeat the error; after all, hydrogenated vegetable fats became a major source of trans fatty acids in the American diet and peas do not provide “complete protein” as explicitly stated in the 1950 publication.

    As the federal government has gone nutritionally astray, I’ll continuing recommending, highlighting and endorsing pastured eggs (a free food – eat as many as you like); whole raw milk and cheese made from whole raw-milk; fatty fish; succulent, fatty outdoor-raised pork; chicken (including the dark meat and the skin) and those savory cuts of pastured beef and lamb – all condemned and/or omitted in the official 2010 Dietary Guidelines.

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  23. John says:

    Just a comment about the salt use in 1950’s. Salt use was encourage because of iodized salt and the concern of getting iodine. There were less processed foods eaten meals were made from scratch and there still was no high salt content.

    Information I have researched today if you cut back on table salt useage it would only be 8% of your total salt intake. Most of it comes from hidden salts in preservatives, fast, and processed foods. Not from home cooking.

  24. Trevor says:

    Very interesting comparison. Another factor that I think has contributed to the obesity epidemic in America is the government’s war on tobacco. I was born in 1972 well after the start of the war on tobacco in the 1960s but and I am old enough to remember when cigarette vending machines were everywhere and nearly all adults still smoked, and very few of them were even overweight much less obese.