Saturday, January 09, 2016

New Food Guidelines 2015-2020 and What's Being Said About Them

Burns Park School lunch, October 1, 2015.
Our local elementary school. See this post.
"Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia M. Burwell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack today released updated nutritional guidelines that encourage Americans to adopt a series of science-based recommendations to improve how they eat to reduce obesity and prevent chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is the nation's trusted resource for evidence-based nutrition recommendations and serves to provide the general public, as well as policy makers and health professionals with the information they need to help the public make informed choices about their diets at home, school, work and in their communities."

Thus began a press release from the Department of Agriculture on January 7, 2016.

The most dramatic suggestion from these new guidelines is a 10% limit on the quantity of added sugar that one should consume. They could have just said "avoid drinking too many sweetened beverages," but the soda industry and others have a say-so in how they present their guidelines. They also suggested less "animal protein" for men and teenage boys. They could have said "eat less meat" but the cattle industry and others have a lot of influence. So much politics!

"Shift to healthier food and beverage choices" is one of their not particularly controversial suggestions. They did recommend conventional things like eating vegetables, fruit, whole grains. Also, "By removing dietary cholesterol as a 'nutrient of concern for overconsumption,' the guideline authors bowed to research suggesting that foods rich in the fatty substance contribute only marginally to levels of cholesterol circulating in the bloodstream." (Source: "New Dietary Guidelines," Baltimore Sun.)  

These federal guidelines are important because they become legal requirements for federally subsidized school lunch programs and other government-sponsored programs. I'm not qualified to analyze the guidelines professionally, but I have gathered some material about them from various sources --

Marion Nestle, nutrition expert, has a focus on real foods not "nutrients," which she feels doesn't help people develop good eating patterns. She suggests that the guidelines would be simpler and easier to follow if they just said to eat less processed and junk food. From her blog:
"These Dietary Guidelines, like all previous versions, recommend foods when they suggest 'eat more.' But they switch to nutrients whenever they suggest 'eat less.'
  • "In the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, saturated fat is a euphemism for meat.
  • "Added sugars is a euphemism for sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • "Sodium is a euphemism for processed foods and junk foods."  -- Source: "The 2015 Dietary Guidelines, at long last" by Marion Nestle. 
Michael Pollan agrees about "nutrients" vs. "foods."  In an interview anticipating the release of the guidelines, he says this:
"Don't get lost in the details. It’s very important to keep an eye on the big picture. Eating real food is the most important thing you can do if you’re concerned about your health. The precise amount of various nutrients really is not going to make a difference. Those very specific recommendations are probably most useful to institutions that need to conform their feeding programs to federal standards — like the school lunch program.
"[The recommendations] are also important to the industry, which loves nothing better than to launch another conversation around nutrients because that leads to opportunities for new health claims. For example, if this time around "added sugar" becomes a food category, which it hasn’t been in the past, it’ll be an opportunity for foodmakers to boast about how little added sugar they have in their products. But that won’t turn unhealthy food into healthy food.
"In general, any nutrient-based advice becomes another distraction from the really important project of focusing on food." -- Source: "Michael Pollan on how America got so screwed up about food" by Julia Belluz at Vox.
About the "protein" recommendation, here's some history from a Baltimore Sun Editorial:
"The dietary guidelines released yesterday by the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services mark the ninth time in a row that the meat industry has successfully suppressed scientific findings recommending reduced meat consumption ... .
"Reduced meat consumption was first recommended in 1977 by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs in the 'Dietary Goals for the United States,' a precursor to the Dietary Guidelines. 
"But the meat industry forced the committee to destroy all copies of the report and to remove the offending recommendation from a new edition. 
"That wanton government sell-out to the meat industry has replayed itself with every new edition of the guidelines since then." -- Source: "Our adulterated dietary guidelines"
And from the Los Angeles Times:
"One thing lawmakers did was fund a peer-reviewed study by the National Academy of Medicine of the science behind the dietary guidelines. The added research can only improve the next recommendations, but it's likely to leave unanswered what may be the most important question about the guidelines: Why don't more people follow them?" -- Source: "Feds serve up more dietary guidelines for Americans to ignore," Editorial in the Los Angeles Times.  


Beth F said...

We aren't the only country with strong food-producer lobbies, but whether it's here or abroad, I think it's horrible that politics and economics stand between the public and sane information about health and nutrition. Nice write up.

(Diane) bookchickdi said...

Thanks for this wonderful analysis of an important issue.

Jeanie said...

This is a really good analysis. I like your guidelines better. Eat less beef. Drink less sugar. (And avoid cake baking classes!)

Esme said...

The sad thing is the politicians are in the pockets of every lobby group. Stop subsidizing the corn industry and putting corn syrup in everything.