Every five years a process occurs in this country whereby the US Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) provide the public with updated dietary guidelines based upon the latest evidence available.
Why do this?
First, it makes perfect sense for the US government to provide a transparent and streamlined portal to the latest information on nutrition to maintain optimal health and for the prevention and mitigation of disease.
Second, the field of nutrition is riddled with conflicting information and fleeting recommendations citing studies that refute the current dogma on a cyclical basis.
Third, The Dietary Guidelines are required under the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act of 1990 and inform the development of federal food, nutrition, and health policies and programs.
Fourth, They serve as the evidence-based foundation for federal government nutrition education materials and are used to inform programs like Older Americans Act Nutrition Services Programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that affect millions of people each day.
How does the process occur?
As required by law, the US Secretary of Health and Human Services and the US Secretary of Agriculture commissioned a group of experts to conduct an extensive audit of nutrition sciences to see how the then current 2010 US Dietary Guidelines should be changed.
The dietary experts convened over several months then provided a 571 page advisory report the US Secretary of Health and Human Services and the US Secretary of Agriculture on January 28, 2015 titled: 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) Scientific Report. This highly organized scientific report which is available to the public analyzes the existing dietary guidelines in context to the state of nutrition science and is quite impressive. This compendium is a product of the collaboration of 68 experts, consultants, public officials, a dietary management team, nutrition evidence library team, data analysis team and editorial staff.
The US Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) and the US Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) then consider the DGAC report over the course of a year and then releases the official guidelines to the public.
What happens over the course of a year?
In addition to the DGAC committee report, the USDHHS and USDA obtained input from federal nutrition and medical experts and comments from the public to develop the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines.
Unfortunately, US government policies are “under the influence” of lobbyist which in this instance includes Big Food or more specifically in this instance the livestock meat and soda industry.
Once the DGAC Advisory Report becomes available to the public, Big Food then in turn sends their minions to influence the political process and final outcome of the US Dietary Guidelines once seeing that red meat was literally on the chopping block and soda was about to become extinct.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines also ignored the DGAC Scientific Report that concluded that a healthy diet should be “lower in red and processed meats and low in sugary sodas” despite the known hazards of consuming red meat and sugary sodas. These stapes of the Western diet have caused an explosion in diabetes, obesity and cardiometabolic disease.
The lobbying was quite effective.
Congress advised the federal agencies involved to expunge sustainability from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines. So they did! This is interesting in light of global efforts such as the historic 2015 Paris Accord whereby 195 countries agreed to enact more environmental policies-not emit more greenhouse gases by having more cows to slaughter. Perhaps Congress is confused?
On January 7, 2016, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia M. Burwell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack released updated nutritional guidelines that encouraged 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.
Below is a verbatim summary of the 2015-2020 US Dietary Guidelines:
“The specific recommendations fit into five overarching guidelines and 13 goals in the new edition. A nice summary (Box) can be viewed from an article published in JAMA on January 7, 2016.
- Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. Eating patterns are the combination of foods and drinks that a person eats over time
- Focus on variety, nutrient-dense foods, and amount
- Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake
- Shift to healthier food and beverage choices
- Support healthy eating patterns for all
Healthy eating patterns include a variety of nutritious foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy, lean meats and other protein foods and oils, while limiting saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars and sodium. A healthy eating pattern is adaptable to a person’s taste preferences, traditions, culture and budget.
Importantly, the guidelines suggest Americans should consume:
- A variety of vegetables, including dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy and other vegetables
- Fruits, especially whole fruits
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
- A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products, and nuts and seeds
- Oils, including those from plants: canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower. Oils also are naturally present in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives, and avocados
Further, Americans should be encouraged to consume:
- Less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars. ChooseMyPlate.gov provides more information about added sugars, which are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. This does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those consumed as part of milk and fruits
- Less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats. The Nutrition Facts label can be used to check for saturated fats. Foods that are high in saturated fat include butter, whole milk, meats that are not labeled as lean, and tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil (where’s the beef?)
- Less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium for people over the age of 14 years and less for those younger. The Nutrition Facts label is a helpful tool to check for sodium, especially in processed foods like pizza, pasta dishes, sauces, and soups
Based on a review of current scientific evidence on nutrition, the 2015-2020 edition includes updated guidance on topics such as added sugars, sodium, and cholesterol and new information on caffeine.
For example, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines is the first edition to recommend a quantitative limit to consume less than 10 percent of calories from added sugars. This edition also reaffirms guidance about the core building blocks of a healthy lifestyle that have remained consistent over the past several editions, and suggests there is still work to be done to encourage more Americans to follow the recommendations outlined in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines was informed by the recommendations of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which was composed of prestigious researchers in the fields of nutrition, health, and medicine, and by consideration of public and federal agency comments.
Since 1980, HHS and USDA have shared a responsibility to the American public to ensure that advancements in scientific understanding about the role of nutrition in health are incorporated into the Dietary Guidelines, which is updated every five years. USDA has also released updates for consumers on ChooseMyPlate.gov, and new resources will soon be available on Health.gov from HHS that will help health professionals support their clients and patients in making healthy choices.”
The Food MD’s Analysis of the New Guidelines.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines continue to address the unhealthy Western-based dietary and lifestyle habits of Americans. We are becoming more sedentary and are over consuming refined grains, unhealthy fats, red and processed meat, sugary beverages, salted food products and alcohol (which has not been linked as being carcinogenic even with light-moderate consumption for women).
However, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines has ignored much of the DGAG Scientific Report containing evidence-based recommendations to restrict red meat based on the cumulative evidence of its potential hazards and instead encouraged “lean meats” and made processed meats the patsy.
No doubt that the influential lobbyist from the meat industry that generates $64.2 billion a year played a major role in modifying the advisory committee’s recommendations. The National Cattleman’s Beef Association which has a grip on Congress whereas Big Sugar is less influential being a $19B industry.
Mixed news is the setting of a limit for the consumption for highly glycemic processed grains such as white bread and pastas as half of total grain consumption. Whole grains are a rich source of fibrous foods that feed our gut microbiome and are ripe with B vitamins and minerals-while refined grains are highly glycemic and promote systemic inflammation and chronic disease. Carbs are demonized in favor of fats-more on that later.
What to drink? Due to the numerous positive studies on the health benefits of consuming coffee—a couple cups daily was recommended.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines also addressed macronutrients and micronutrients having a potential public health concern.
Americans are deficient in the intake of critical nutrients which as fiber, calcium, magnesium, choline, potassium, vitamin A, D and E. This set of recommendations is n part a win for the dietary supplement industry although there is a war waging in Washington, DC that is aiming to further regulate the industry.
An interesting recommendation though vague is for young boys and men to limit their protein consumption. Strange that growing boys need more protein during growth and elderly men need more protein to avert lean muscle mass also known as sarcopenia.
Perhaps the target population of interest to limit protein intake would be middle-aged men based upon one study showing that higher protein consumption in this population was linked to a higher risk of cancer. There are also growing concerns continue regarding higher protein consumption’s link to chronic kidney disease, a condition whose prevalence continues to climb.
Eggs are rich source of choline and their prior demonization may explain a national decreased intake of this nutrient.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines does an excellent job in emphasizing healthy eating patterns and appropriate caloric intake to maintain a healthy body weight-but as we know-body weight is not always a matter of calorie intake vs. energy output.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines promote the intake of fats once maligned such as eggs, shrimp and other ‘high cholesterol foods” to put those who are fat-phobic at ease. There are 23 head to head studies on low fat vs. low carb and the overwhelming majority favor low carb as having better outcomes data for weight loss so the pendulum is swinging back that fat is in vogue.
However, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines fail to promote fats and oils that are “anti-inflammatory” such as olive oil, avocado as emphasized in the Mediterranean diet that promote improved health outcomes including weight control, diabetes, prevention of dementia, cardiometabolic disease etc.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines failed to identify red meats as a source of saturated fat when they imposed a limit of consumption of saturated fats to less than 10% of the daily caloric load as the American Heart Association still cautions us about their potential dangers. Overall, there are many expert opinions about the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines which vary from their laying an egg to hitting a home run.
I applaud the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s Scientific Report. Detailed, comprehensive, evidence-based and packed with potential to help Americans become healthy. Limiting salt, saturated fat, refined grains, moderating alcohol, all makes perfect sense.
So what’s the problem? Washington Politics—plain and simple!
There was a time when we were promised that lobbyist were to become extinct like dinosaurs.
Instead, big food industry continues to influence The US Farm Bill that favors the federal funding of obesogenic and disease-promoting crops.
Big Food also influenced the formulation of the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines to avoid red meat being on the chopping block and let soda sales fizzle as recommended by its panel of expert advisors. Instead, the persistence of red meat, sodas and even junk and processed foods were camouflaged in vague language.
Along these lines, the US federal government permits Big Food to influence legislation about labeling laws for genetically modified foods (GMOs).
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines promotes healthy eating for your body weight but is rather vague about portion control compared to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines—a notable minus.
Finally, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines fails to demonize red meat and indirectly promotes its consumption by endorsing cholesterol, not linking it as a source of saturated fats and linking it as a protein source which all pointed towards MORE red meat consumption albeit lean.
As many of you are aware there are relatively new guidelines which govern the relationship of physicians and the pharmaceutical industry: The Sunshine Act of 2013.
The idea of the legislation was to provide the public a transparent portal to the disclosure of a doctor’s potential influence by industry and conflicts of interests more transparent. Many institutions have followed suit and have imposed their own restrictions of their physicians in their interactions with industry to raise the bar in ethical standards.
On the flip side, legislators who are concerned about how a doctor’s potential influenced by industry may harm the public take no issue “interacting” with lobbyist to impact policies that impede healthy and sound dietary recommendations to the public and favor the federal funding of disease-promoting crops.
To Your Good Health,
The Food MD