Nutritionists stew over new U.S. dietary guidelines
January 7, 2016 11:14 PM
J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
Nutrition experts and scientists are criticizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new dietary guidelines, which includes beef and other meat.
By David Templeton / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With the introduction to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans topped with a photograph of a cooked egg and a piece of meat, it was a safe bet that nutritionists would grill the U.S. Department of Agriculture about its recommendations. So turn up the heat.
“I won’t mince words: In my opinion, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are a national embarrassment,” said David L. Katz, a Yale University nutritionist and founder of the True Health Initiative. “They are a betrayal of the diligent work of nutrition scientists, and a willful sacrifice of public health on the altar of profit for well-organized special interests. This is a sad day for nutrition policy in America. It is a sad day for public health. It is a day of shame.”
Dr. Katz said recommendations from the Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee report in February called for sustainable food sources, with plant foods preferred over animal-based foods that have an exponentially larger impact on climate change. But Congress edited that from the new guidelines, which also recommend consumption of beef, other meats, dairy and eggs, most of which contain higher levels of cholesterol and saturated fats that, in an inexplicable twist, the guidelines hope to limit.
The guidelines, released Thursday, are the foundation for federal food, nutrition and health policies, education and nutrition programs and guide Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture food programs. Businesses, schools, community groups, the food industry, and state and local governments also use them.
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The 2015 guidelines, which replace those from 2010, call for higher consumption of vegetables of all kinds and colors, be they dark green, red or orange, along with beans, peas and starchy vegetables. Also deemed healthful are whole fruits and grains, as long as at least half are whole grains.
But the guidelines also recommend non-fat or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt and cheese, with the addition of fortified soy beverages. Protein foods can include seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, nuts, seeds and soy products. Oils are considered to be nutritional, albeit with recommendations that saturated fats be limited to no more than 10 percent of total calories.
The new guidelines have removed the 2010 guideline limit of 300 daily milligrams of cholesterol but continue recommending that “individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible,” listing fatty meats and high-fat dairy products as foods high in saturated fats.
Sugar also should represent no more than 10 percent of total daily calories, or 200 in a diet of 2,000 calories. That represents about one 16-ounce bottle of sugar-sweetened cola or five small chocolate cookies.
Salt or sodium intake should not exceed 2,300 milligrams, or about a teaspoon. Many processed foods contain high levels of sodium.
The guidelines’ introduction describes “a history of poor eating and physical activity patterns” leading to significant nutritional health problems, with about half of all American adults, or about 117 million individuals, having one or more preventable chronic diseases. Those include cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and poor bone health, with two-thirds of all adults and a third of all children currently overweight or obese.
Walter Willett, the noted Harvard University nutritionist and chairman in the nutrition department at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the new guidelines included two good moments by limiting added sugar while removing restrictions on total fat consumption. The net effect is to encourage people to replace unhealthy processed carbohydrates with more healthful plant-based fats.
“But the USDA’s hands were not tied in the relationship of red meat and health outcomes, and the scientific report [in February] was specific on the need to limit red meat and processed meat,” he said. “The guidelines also don’t attempt to limit soda consumption with nothing stated in the major conclusions.
“These are the standards for food fed to kids at schools, institutions for the elderly and federal programs for pregnant women, so these guidelines are translated into the diets of millions of Americans every day and will lead to the failure to restrict red and processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages that cause premature death, heart attacks, diabetes, blindness, and the list goes on,” said Dr. Willett, arguing that the USDA is misleading the public to appease the meat and soft-drink industries.
“This has the hoofprints of big beef and big soda all over it,” he said.
Countered the American Beverage Association: “We fully support the goal to help Americans achieve and maintain a healthy weight,” referring to its Balanced Calories Initiative designed to reduce beverage calories in the U.S. diet. “This is a meaningful initiative the will have significant real-world impact in helping people reduce their consumption of calories and sugar from beverages.”
And the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association praised the guidelines for including lean meat as a healthful and nutritious form of protein.
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