by Marion Nestle
Jun 15 2010

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee files report

Yesterday, I got a last-minute invitation to listen in on a USDA conference call announcing the release of the report of the joint USDA-DHHS Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (see

The call was remarkable for how little information it produced.  It was scheduled for half an hour, but started 12 minutes late.  Officials used most of the time to talk about how the committee was appointed, how the committee process worked, how transparent everything was, and how staff of USDA’s new Evidence-Based Nutrition Library (NEL) provided much of the research basis for the guidelines.  This left hardly any time for asking questions, and only five got asked.

From what I heard, the committee report says pretty much what previous accounts said it would (see my post on this).  If my notes on the call are correct, the committee report will recommend:

  • Maintain appropriate body weight through diet and physical activity
  • Shift to a more plant-based diet
  • Eat more seafood; eat more low-fat dairy products; limit meat intake
  • Eat less solid fats; eat less of added sugars
  • Reduce sodium; eat fewer refined grains
  • Follow physical activity guidelines

Is this news?  Isn’t this always what the dietary guidelines say?  Here, just for fun, are the first set of guidelines that came out in 1980.

The main difference seems to be the way the evidence was judged and in some of the details: the target for saturated fat is 7% and for sodium a gradual reduction to 1500 mg/day.

If so, that’s a lot of trouble to go through to get to basically the same place.  I summarized that place in What to Eat as “Eat less, move more, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and don’t eat too much junk food.”  Michael Pollen did it even more succinctly: “Eat food.  Mostly plants.  Not too much.”

So why would two federal agencies and 13 committee members go to all this trouble?

The quick answer is that the agencies have to.  Congress says they have to review the guidelines every five years.

The longer answer, which I discuss in Food Politics and What to Eat, is that every word of the dietary guidelines is fraught with politics.

According to Food Chemical News (June 14),

The document is frequently the source of much controversy in the food industry because of the way it is used to promote certain ingredients and eating habits…Observers expect some controversy this year over recommendations made with regard to salt, a subject discussed frequently in committee meetings, as well a possible suggestion to replace two servings of grain with two servings of vegetables.

Another controversy is brewing in regards to the information on which the report was based. On Friday, the American Meat Institute, the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association and the Grain Foods Foundation were among 23 groups that asked USDA and HHS to provide access to the Nutrition Evidence Library, which contains all the research used by the Dietary Guidelines committee when making their recommendations. “Without access to the data from which the DGAC drew its conclusions and recommendations, the public may not be able to provide meaningful comments,” the letter states.

Right. And now let’s see what the agencies do with this report (here’s the USDA press release on what happens next and how to comment).  This report is, after all, merely advisory. Now, the real politics begins!


Here is all the information about the Advisory Committee’s report, and the report itself (but why didn’t they put it in one easy pdf file?).

And here is USA Today’s take on it: “Panel: obesity is century’s greatest public health threat.”

Further addition, June 16: Thanks to Daniel Green (Cornell) for putting the report together in one enormous (19MB) file.

  • Anthro

    Who came up with “avoid too much…..” What a ridiculous phrase! Define “avoid”, define “too much”. Hopefully, more people will read you and Michael Pollan.

    It is sad, indeed, that something as basic as nutritional guidelines, even if based on actual science, cannot be presented in a straightforward manner. What are they so afraid of? Can the food industry sue the government? Isn’t there anyone in government willing to stand up to industry?

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Food Politics » Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee files report --

  • Smurphy

    Wait, the committee bragged about “how transparent everything was,” but did not provide access to the Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL) where they got all of their data and research?!? Seems a little hypocritical to me…

  • 40 years of official health ‘guidance’ has yielded a public health disaster.

    Doing the same thing over and again and getting a worsening result is a sign of insanity, at best.

    The health needs of the many should now outweigh the financial benefits of the few – guidance needs to be turned to intervention because words are cheap, but sugar is cheaper.

  • Sheila

    Doesn’t seem to matter what agencies think of the new guidelines. Individual people are clearly NOT following the old guidelines (witness the exploding problems of obesity and coronary artery disease), do we really think they will take any more responsibility to follow the new, more restrictive guidelines? I’m not betting so.

  • Pingback: Dietary Advisory Committee: American Public Overweight, Undernourished - Health Blog - WSJ()

  • Pete

    @ Shelia – they ARE following the guidelines, HENCE the rise in obesity and diabetes. That’s what happens when you limit fat and protein intake in favor of carbohydrates (yes, even the beloved whole grains). The mere suggestion of lowering fat intake had a profound effect on public health, for the worse. Hormone levels are all awack (especially insulin) because of excessive grain intake. When cereal replaced bacon and eggs we should have known we were in trouble. As human beings we have only been eating grains for a fraction of our existence, and the process of refining them (even keeping all the fiber) is even more recent. However, humans have been eating meat since we figured out how to kill it (actually before then as we would feast on fresh carcases left by larger predators).

    Something I always found interesting is that those who often tout breastmilk as the “perfect food” also seem to be anti dietary fat. What exactly is the macro breakdown of breastmilk anyway? Just something to think about.

    My response to Pollan is: Eat meat, eggs, nuts, vegetables, some fruit and drink water. I have seen this work wonders for the body composition and lipid profile of many first hand.

  • Pingback: Food Inc – why it’s so relevant for Australian audiences – Croakey()

  • It’s easy to see that this will not be popular with the low-carb followers of Doctor Atkins and Gary Taubes.

    Jim Purdy

  • Daniel

    Here is a single pdf version (699 pages) of the 2010 Guidelines for all of those who are interested

  • Marion,

    Thank you for your information.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We cannot wait for government assistance in regard to diet, lifestyle, and health. If we do, the only outcome will be an unhealthy one. After all, with all due respect to Mrs. Obama, the government is still feeding school kids corn dogs for breakfast.

    We might want to be in denial, however, these are all related:
    1. Wall Street Fiasco – (strike one)
    2. Gulf of Mexico Disaster – (strike two)
    3. Fat and Unhealthy America – (strike three)

    The government has failed at tackling the above problems. I can’t help with the first two, however, I do know how to fix problem #3.

    About a year ago, after some investigation, I decided to change my lifestyle. Thanks to information from you, Michael Pollan, Dr. David Kessler, Dr. David Katz, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, and many others, I found lifestyle changes to be simple and easy. The weight-loss and health outcomes were incredible.

    Let’s go America….we can do this…and without government assistance.

    Ken Leebow

  • Diana

    You know, for a second I actually had hope that “low-fat diary” would be replaced with “full-fat dairy” – what was I thinking??


  • They pyramid remains faulty and the USDA continues to have one of those revolving door problems just like MMS.

    Time for another system altogether. Research has shown that the pryamid is quite ineffective in educating or inspiring kids on what to eat.

    Let’s get them growing food, cooking food and decifering ingredients instead. After all, junk doesn’t grow in gardens. Cooking is a valueable life skill that builds health and saves money.

    High school students should be aware of the top ten hazardous ingredients in the food supply as a requirement for graduation. They should understand why the ingredients are hazardous to human health and how they got into the food stream.

    If everyone were armed with those three skills, cooking, gardening and consumer awareness, we wouldn’t need a stupid pyramid!

  • Emily

    @ Pete: I lived in Japan for a number of years and consistently ate a minimum of 2 bowls of white rice for lunch and dinner, usually with something like grilled fish, miso soup, and a variety of fresh and pickled vegetables. I was also the thinnest I have ever been while on that diet, which is saying rather a lot because I have always been a healthy weight. (The closest I’ve ever come to an unheahtly weight, for the record, was when I was in cooking school, eating a very high-calorie series of meals, usually based on butter.) Food is food and calories are calories. It’s not a question of fat = bad of carbohydrates = bad, or whatever our next nutritional bugaboo turns out to be. Rather, it’s a question of eating less, basing most of what we eat on plants, and moving more.

  • Pete

    @ Emily. Science would disagree with you. One experience does not a law make. Insulin sensitivity is genetic and some are capable of handling more carbohydrates than others. Also, the insulin merely triggers the fat storage mechanism, you still need to provide the calories to store. So if you are eating lean meats and carbohydrates chances are your caloric intake is lower than if you are eating fatty food in addition to the carbs. I agree its not about bugabbo. its about how humans have been eating for the majority of thier existence. Vampire movies are all the rage now, and they have those fans specifically to suck blood. We too have fangs, they are called the “carnivores” for a reason. The human body is an amazing, complex system that can survive on allot of different energy sources. But survive is not the same as “function optimally”. Physically our bodies have still not evolved to deal with moderate stress. We release cortisol when we are worried about being late for work as we did when we were being chased by a Tiger. Our bodies can’t tell the difference.

    I am all for moving more, but I simply do not believe that the human body is as straight forward as an oven when it comes to measuring the energy content of food. Also, if food is food, than what difference does it make if its plant based or not? That seems to be a contradiction.

  • Eat more seafood; eat more low-fat dairy products;

    Did they happen to mention where we might find safe seafood? Also, when are they going to get it about full-fat dairy?

  • Pingback: » Sam Lewandowski RD’s Nutrition News Roundup – Week of 6/14()

  • Roxanne Rieske

    Personally, I feel sluggish and tired when I eat too many meat products, even lean/low-fat products. I feel my best when I’m eating leafy greens, beans (I love beans!), 1-2 servings of whole grain a day (Irish oatmeal in the morning!), fruit, and couple handfuls of nuts. I eat all the leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables I can possibly stuff myself with, lots of fruit (I have a sweet tooth, eating fruit keeps me from processed sugar), and at least 1 serving of beans a day. This diet keeps me full and energetic, all with a low-calorie count! I still eat meat (but almost no dairy, which makes my sinus allergies worse), but I reserve it for special occasions, when I can afford the higher quality items. I also use meat as a seasoning ingredient like the Chinese do, which helps me eat more veggies!

    When your diet is largely plant-based w/ minimal meat products, you would have to eat close to 5 pounds of food to equal 1500 calories. This is impossible for the average person, which can only consume 1.5-2 pounds of food a day.

    The ideal goal is to consume as many plant-based foods that are nutrient dense and low-calorie (nutrient density/calorie count=optimal energy).

  • Pingback: Nutrição nos EUA | Nutrx – Alimentação, Bem Estar, Diversão!()

  • Pingback: Stop Blogging and Cook » GOOD NEWS FROM OUR GOVERNMENT, OR JUST HYPE?()