The Dietary Guidelines: Simple but Not Easy
The nutrition community had been waiting for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, which were released a month late yesterday. Since 1980, the Dietary Guidelines have been published jointly by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) every 5 years by law. The Guidelines are the basis for Federal nutrition education programs, such as My Pyramid and the Nutrition Facts label, and they guide the foods that are offered by School Lunch, WIC and other Federal nutrition programs.
As explained in the Executive Summery, “The intent of the Dietary Guidelines is to summarize and synthesize knowledge about individual nutrients and food components into an interrelated set of recommendations for healthy eating that can be adopted by the public.” The Guidelines constitute the authoritative word about the best diet to prevent disease, which is important because studies show that up to 70% of all diseases result from lifestyle choices.
A Little Background
To develop the Guidelines, a group of nationally recognized nutrition experts is convened. They are scientists and representatives of the professions appointed by the secretaries of USDA and HHS. The group presents the latest research, deliberates, and develops a policy document. The informed public then provides comments, and Guidelines are revised and finalized.
We can’t be sure about what held up the Dietary Guidelines, but several issues were of possible concern: the scientific evidence might have been too be weak; the food industry might have wanted ‘softer language’; some of the committee members may have had industry ties; the government might have seen the Guidelines as impossible to achieve. In favor of the last one, let’s see if we’ve been able to achieve or enforce them thus far.
Some of the key recommendations of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines are:
- Consume adequate nutrients within calorie needs and maintain weight in the healthy range
- Engage in 30-minutes of moderate activity most days and achieve physically fitness
- Keep fat calories between 20 and 35% of total calories and saturated fat to 10% or less
- Make 50% of all grain high fiber and cap added sugar at 10 % of total calories
- Keep sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams a day and eat more high potassium foods
- Drink alcohol in moderation if at all
Some of the key recommendations of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines are little changed:
- Focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages maintain calorie balance to achieve and sustain a healthy weight
- Increase physical activity and reduce time spent in sedentary behaviors
- Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids.
- Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains.
- If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation
But other 2010 recommendations are a bit different:
- No need to keep fat so low as long as saturated fat less than 10% of calories. (“Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.”)
- Half of all Americans must reduce sodium to 1500 milligrams a day.
(“Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.)
- Eat more fish and non-meat proteins. (“Increase the amount and variety of seafood consumed by choosing seafood in place of some meat and poultry.” “Choose a variety of protein foods, which include seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.”)
And so, yes, we are advised to shift away from meat towards plant-based foods and oils, and we should move away from sodium, which is to say processed food, and to be fair, the complete document, which is a good read, says much more about managing weight and following the DASH eating plan. But if you look at the Dietary Guidelines since 1980, you’ll see that little has changed overall. This seems to be a case of 'simple, but not easy' for Americans to achieve.
Why doesn't the public seem to heed the Dietary Guidelines?