Change Coming to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans
It’s about that time again, folks. The sixth meeting of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has recently drawn to a close. Just one more meeting remains until the absolute final word on how to eat healthily and stave off chronic disease, obesity, and early death forever becomes available for public consumption. Isn’t it grand? We can all just sit back, turn off our brains, close down the PubMed tab, and receive premier nutritional recommendations that do all the work for us. I’m serious. Stop thinking so much. The impending recommendations come from high up: a Committee composed of Important People and Experts with your best interests in mind.
Well, that’s what they want you to think. In reality, these guidelines are likely going to have a lot of shortcomings, inconsistencies, and outright errors – just like the previous guidelines – and they deserve criticism and scrutiny.
The Healthy Nation Coalition, whose director is Adele Hite, talented purveyor of the brilliant Eathropology blog, has produced a scathing letter detailing the specific shortcomings, failings, and falsehoods found in the past and likely future Dietary Guidelines. Though it’s addressed to Tom Vilsack of the Department of Agriculture and Sylvia Burwell of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Healthy Nation Coalition’s true target audience is “broad-based and includes scientists, health care practitioners, ranchers & farmers, health advocacy groups,” and people like you guys. You can read it here.
So, what’s their beef with the Guidelines? The Coalition’s letter submits five points of contention. I’ll go through each one of them in turn.
They have contributed to the increase of chronic diseases.
Since 1977, the Dietary Goals have suggested that Americans interested in living longer and avoiding chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer should eat less saturated fat and cholesterol from animal foods and eat more grains (and grain products) and vegetable oils. That message has never changed. The Food Pyramid held firm, even amidst growing rates of the diseases it was supposed to prevent.
Critics contend that Americans simply didn’t Pyramid hard enough. They say we didn’t follow the guidelines, and that’s why disease increased. There’s a glimmer of truth there. Americans don’t eat the recommended number of vegetable servings a day, for one. But by and large, we have heeded the main recommendations stressed by the Committee: we reduced the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in our diets (from foods like eggs, whole milk, butter, and red meat) and increased our consumption of grains and vegetable oils.