by Marion Nestle
Apr 23 2010

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines: some hints at what they might say

By congressional fiat, federal agencies must revise the Dietary Guidelines every five years. This is one of those years.   The 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has been meeting for a couple of years and is now nearly done.

Some unnamed person from the American Society of Nutrition must be attending meetings.  The society’s Health and Nutrition Policy Newsletter (April 22) provides a report.

From the sound of it, this committee is doing some tough thinking about how to deal with “overarching issues” that affect dietary advice:

  • The high prevalence of overweight and obesity among all Americans
  • The need to focus recommendations on added sugar, fats, refined carbohydrates, and sodium (rather than the obscure concept of “discretionary calories” used in the 2005 guidelines)
  • The benefits of shifting to plant-based, rather than meat-based, diets
  • The need to help individuals achieve physical activity guidelines
  • The need to change the food environment to help individuals meet the Dietary Guidelines

Applause, please, for this last one.  It recognizes that individuals can’t do it alone.

The committee’s key findings and recommendations:

  • Vegetable protein and soy protein: little evidence for unique health benefits, but there are benefits, such as added dietary fiber intake, from diets high in vegetable and soy proteins.
  • Carbohydrates: a consistent relationship between soft drink intake and weight gain. Overweight and obese children should reduce overall energy intake, especially from added sugars (and especially in the form of soft drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages).
  • Fats: mono and polyunsaturated fats, when replacing saturated fats, decrease the risks of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes in healthy adults. No benefit from increased intakes of omega-3 fatty acids above 250-300 mg a day.  Adults should eat two servings of fish per week to obtain omega 3 fatty acids.
  • Sodium: decrease sodium intake to 2,300 mg sodium per 2,000 calorie diet to lower blood pressure in adults and children. Since 70 percent of the population is hypertensive, the goal for most individuals should be 1,500 mg per 2,000 calorie diet.
  • Potassium: because higher intakes of potassium are associated with lower blood pressure, adults should increase intake to 4,700 mg daily.

Translation: more fruits and vegetables, fewer processed foods, and changes in the food environment to make it easier for everyone to follow this advice.

Next steps: the committee is supposed to complete its report by May 12 and send it to USDA and DHHS. The agencies post the report in June for public comment. Then, agency staff write the guidelines and publish them by the end of the year.

Historical note: prior to 2005, the committee wrote the guidelines.  I was on the 1995 committee and we drafted guidelines that the agencies hardly touched (except to tinker with the alcohol guideline, as I discussed in Food Politics and What to Eat).  The guidelines have always been subject to political pressures, but with the agencies writing them, expect even more.

Let’s hope the committee’s sensible ideas will survive the process.  I will be paying close attention to how the 2010 guidelines progress.  Stay tuned.

  • Hi,

    I understand the importance of 2010 dietary guidelines and possibly revising the food pyramid. The government has been putting too much control on what and how people should eat. It’s really simple, staying home and cooking meals you would normally eat at your favorite fast food or local eating joint. I think the guys who wrote the series of books entitled “Cook This…Not That” have written and researched their findings about the real truth about our food. In their book there is no mention of food pyramids or dietary guidelines or even diet plans. In fact, they encourage folks to stop those fad quick-loss diets…cook with intelligence and you will start to feel better, lose tummy fat and even stop taking those meds.

    I manage Health Consultants4U with two fully certified and licensed nutritionist whereby we help plan, design, monitor our clients with diabetes and a folks who desire to give us a try to help them learn to cook healthy an eat right by following the principles of David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding series of books. Our company has been helping people develop a new attitude and making great food choices and getting results.

    As the committee seeks to make some important decisions Health Consultants4U requests that they read Zinczenko & Goulding books to get idea what people want.They want to enjoy life through healthy meal planning and lifestyle.

  • Joy

    “Translation: more fruits and vegetables, fewer processed foods, and changes in the food environment to make it easier for everyone to follow this advice,” is brilliant in it’s simplicity. The FDA could use a dose of such clear & succinct recommendations.

    Learning to cook and eat more plants, and reading ingredient lists and packaging labels to avoid processed foods will get us away from the salt/sugar/fat addiction – the root of the food evil – enabling Americans to get off the obesity treadmill.

  • Neil

    The only way stop obesity is population based health promotion.
    We HAVE the science but we don’t have the political will.

  • Cathy Richards

    Sounds like Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating!

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  • Veganman

    Changes or not, Americans (as a whole) will still be as listless, ignorant, and lazy about their food as before. Change the world, GO VEGAN!

  • Anthro

    It is possible for the individual to achieve these goals, but you will be considered an eccentric old bat.

    P.S. I LIKE being an eccentric old bat!

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  • Bobby

    Somehow industry will find a way to make industry’s goals align with the FDA’s goals, and as usual it probably won’t be because industry has aligned itself with the health of citizens goals. Translation: industry will get what it wants because it has paid congress to do what it wants. And that’s your lesson in American corpo-democracy for today.

  • Johannes G

    Sadly, I see some flaws in just the things you show from the preliminary report, mainly the dissection of nutrients, which I know you fully advocate against.

    Increase potassium intake? Wow. Great job! I bet they got that from the side of a Tropicana Orange Juice carton.

    Or on the other hand, broad generalizations about specific things. Unsaturated fats? What about their ability to spoil rapidly? At that point, they’re actually bad for you, and will cause heart disease. And I’m sure that your McDonald’s Low-Salt Potassium-Added French Fries with added soy protein deep-fried in unsaturated fats will soon be touted as a heart-healthy alternative! Woo!

    Besides my skepticism, I do share some optimism with you, Marion. I think it’s absolutely a miracle that the committee has acknowledged the fact that the food environment needs to change. I might have watched too much Jamie Oliver recently – but the man has a point. When we can get away with pizza crust being two bread servings, but brown rice doesn’t meet regulations, there’s an issue there. Let’s get people to actually cook, and actually learn about food. Then they can actually care about what goes into their bodies.

  • Pete

    Proof once again how far behing the goverment lags science. I see nothing addressing the mass consumption of processed grain & corn. Wow soda is bad for you!??!! Thanks Captain America, I mean Captain Obvious.

  • It is such a shame that we need to have a set of dietary guidelines to tell us how to eat. We, as Americans, have too many food choices, most of which are unhealthy. I understand that the government’s policies are written with the lobbyists of the food industry in mind, but how can we get around this and go back to eating real foods?
    It is fine to say that government will make new regulations so that processed foods will start to have less salt, more vitamins, more fiber, less sugar. This does nothing to help the nutritional status of America. And coupled with the fact that processed foods and fast foods are less expensive (and less nutritious) than real, whole foods due to the farm subsidies in place, fixed-income families lean toward these calorie-rich but nutrient-deficient food products. But what about real foods, the kinds of things our grandparents used to eat? The cards are stacked against Americans making good, sensible, affordable food choices. It is cheaper to buy a dollar meal at MacDonald’s rather than a piece of fish and a salad at the grocery store. How do we get around this? I do not think that making fast foods and processed foods less unhealthy (I will not say healthier!) is the answer. Eating real, whole foods like fruits, vegetables and beans and grains is. The question is how do we get the financial support for the farmers that deserve it—the small, real farms that grow our foods, not the big agribusinesses–so that real wholesome food prices become affordable for American families?

  • The guidelines are a step in the right direction, but consumers need new-and-improved choices at the supermarket. Regarding the sodium issue, until food companies make significant changes, achieving a 1,500mg sodium goal will be a huge challenge. The flour tortillas in my fridge right now have over 500mg sodium each, so even if I make a veggie & bean filled wrap for my kids’ lunch today (topped with their favorite olive-oil based salad dressing), it will be tough to keep the sodium at bay.

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  • Even in 2012 these continue to be valuable recommendations.