by Marion Nestle
Feb 23 2015

Dietary guidelines shouldn’t be this controversial

The uproar caused by the release of the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) has been even noisier than I predicted, so noisy that USDA Secretary Vilsack appears to have pulled back on it.  He told Jerry Hagstrom ( that:

He wants people to realize that the process of writing the dietary guidelines “is just beginning today,” and that he and [HHS Secretary] Burwell will consider input from federal agencies and the general public. He said he wants to be sure that people “know that I know my responsibility.”

In this, Vilsack was referring to the directive by Congress in the 2015 appropriations bill blocking him from considering sustainability in the guidelines.

As for the DGAC report: It concluded:

…the U.S. population should be encouraged and guided to consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and non-fat dairy products and alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains.

Predictably, this did not go over well with the meat industry or, for that matter, other industries affected by such advice or groups funded by such industries.

Less predictably, the New York Times published an Op-Ed by Nina Teicholz, the journalist author of “The Big Fat Surprise,” a work based on her own review of the science of fat.  In her view, mainstream nutritionists have badly misinterpreted this science to the great detriment of public health.

Her conclusion:

…we would be wise to return to what worked better for previous generations: a diet that included fewer grains, less sugar and more animal foods like meat, full-fat dairy and eggs.

But Teicholz’ book has been the subject of a line-by-line analysis by Seth Yoder (whom I do not know personally).  Mr. Yoder did what graduate students in science are trained to do: read the references.

He looked up and examined the references Teicholz cites in the book as the basis of her views.  He documents an astonishing number of situations in which the references say something quite different from what Teicholz gets out of them.  At the very least, his analysis raises serious questions about the credibility of her views on the science of fat.

Let’s grant that the science of nutrition is difficult to do and complicated.  The New York Times should know this, which is why I’m surprised that it would give Teicholz so prominent a platform without countering them with point-counterpoint views of a respected nutrition scientist.

It does little to foster the health of the public to make nutrition science appear more controversial than it really is.

The basic advice offered by 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee boils down to plain common sense:

  • Eat plenty of foods from plant sources
  • Eat foods from animal sources in moderation
  • Balance calories
  • Avoid overeating junk food

Unfortunately, this kind of advice doesn’t make headlines or, apparently, merit op-ed space in the New York Times.

  • charles grashow


    sinve you have now changed your PhD studies from Nutritional Epidemiology to Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media
    why should we pay attention to anything you have to say with regard to nutrition??

  • Linda N

    oehaut: I am having trouble with your posts. If you truly have an MS in nutrition, (and I have no reason to doubt you) then your studies reflect the current guidelines and all the references that supposedly show that such recommendations are “correct” for all people.

    But what nutrition science is finding out is that many of those recommendations do not work for a lot of people. Also I question your definition of “low carb”. Low carb can mean a lot of different things. To many, if not most low carber’s it means no grains, but plenty of veggies with a deck-of-cards size piece of animal protein. If you recall your nutrition science, veggies are also “carbohydrates” Most paleo promoters are talking of this type of diet. (Granted many also are not.)

    I am someone who cannot, repeat cannot eat a lot of grain carbs, period. The grain recommendations of the USDA food guidelines do not work for me. Eat wheat especially and I gain weight like it is going out of style. And even non-gluten grains are problematic for me.

    Small amounts of whole quinoa and buckwheat is all I can manage. And I cannot get near any dried legumes, and no fruit. (Tiny, and I do mean TINY amounts of frozen lima beans, peas, or edamame beans is all I can manage in the legume department.
    Open your mind to the fact that people genetically produce differing levels of amylase depending upon their ancestry.

    No one diet is right for everyone!

    P.S. I studied nutrition as well (In the UK mostly)

  • Spike Dude

    I guess, you are right – vegetarians indeed seem and ONLY seem to enjoy better health. Thanks for disproving your own point

  • Thumbdriver


  • oehaut

    Again, that just show that you don’t understand how science works. Science are odds. Science are statistics. There is not absolute answer in science, only trend and means. You make an educated guess based on an always incomplete understanding of the reality. But it’s not because we don’t have all the answer that we don’t have some answers. So, yes, vegetarian SEEM to enjoy a better health than healthy meat eater. That’s as far as we can go with science.

    Nothing disproven here, I’m afraid for you.

    But low-carber are not here for the science so I don’t expect much of you so it’s all good.

  • oehaut

    Hi Linda.

    First thing, I or no one else never said that these recommandations are correct for everyone. This is not how science works. There is always standard deviation in science, and means. But when you make recommendations for the general population, you recommended things that first, will do no harm, and second, that will likely benefits the vast majority of the population. No one ever claimed that this is good for everyone. It’s up to the the professional afterward (MD or RD) to adjust the recommendation in a one-on-one consultation based on his knowledge of his patient.

    I would say that nutrition science is finding no such things. For that to be true there would have to be studies that show that whole-grain consumption is harmful and increase disease or death risk, that meat decreases diseases or death risks, that legume are unhealthy, etc, etc. There is no such studies coming out. Actually what we know about healthy eating pattern keep being re-confirmed over and over. Whole grain seem to reduce disease and mortality, meat seems to increase it, so does processed fat and sugar.

    There is a lot of methodological problem with the low-carb studies out there. They are far from being convincing that low-carb is a healthy alternative to a whole food, plant-based diet. If you are a nutrition professional with the correct educational background, you should be able to see that for yourself.

    Maybe you have a specific condition that makes it impossible for you to eat grain. The fact that some people do not tolerate grains does not means that it’s not the healthiest eating pattern for the general population. Again this is to be expected in science, there is always outlier.

    My mind is well open thanks, I just think that I understand a little better than most people here how science works and how we come up with general recommendation for the population.

    This is not a one-on-one consultation. Open your mind to this also, please.

    I never said that a specific diet is perfect for everyone. You really seem to be mixing the geneleral recommendation for the population, which is the subject of this post, with individual recommendation, which is another subject althogheter.

    Hope this clarify my position a little better.

  • Linda N

    Thank you for clarifying your position. However, we will just have to agree to disagree. Bill Murrin below said it well. The recommendations are, for the most part based upon politics rather than science. He quotes Luise Light’s book and how she surveyed all the science in 2005 to find that her recommendations for 2-3 servings of whole grains was ignored and replaced with 5-9 servings of whole grains simply because it would cost too much to fund the food stamp program.
    Whole grains are NOT bad, and in fact a healthy part of a balanced diet for most people, but the amount of servings suggest to eat ARE. A plant-heavy diet can and probably should include more not-grain carbs than grain carbs

    I agree that for most people a meat-heavy diet in not a good thing. First and foremost because it crowds out all those wonderfully colored veggies and fruits and carbs are protein-sparing.. A balance certainly has to be achieved as. But meat per se is neither good nor bad in reasonable amounts (The way it is raised and processed and chemicalised is another matter altogether however and a discussion for another day. )

    But then again, so are there problems with grains being refined and then pumped up with synthetic vitamins.

    I do take issue with your statement that “(They [the studies] are far from being convincing that low-carb is a healthy alternative to a whole food, plant-based diet. If you are a nutrition professional with the correct educational background, you should be able to see that for yourself.”

    Such implications that a different reading of the science than the mainstream means that one’s credentials are questioned is not conducive to a search for truth. (Not that there is an absolute truth here as mankind has subsisted and thrived on a variety of diets with a variety of macronutrient combinations for decades.)
    I often see the actual data belie the authors conclusions on all sides of the diet isles.
    I think the last government agency that should be making nutritional guidelines is the UDSA. A servant cannot serve two masters and serve both of them well. The USDA does indeed alter its guidelines in the face of industry pressure and it starts to become obvious after awhile where that leads. GMO and chemicals and more allowed in foods, politics overriding or influencing science, what studies get funded and how, and what proportion and types of foods are recommended etc.
    Again, we will just have to agree to disagree on this issue.

  • oehaut

    So don’t you think that the meat lobby also is very strong? Actually it’s one of the strongest on the planet. Don’t you think this could influence anything?

    WHat is wrong with the quantity of grains that is recommended? Can you give me an evidence-based reasoning that have you question such recommendation? pre-WWI japanese and chinese were getting most of their calories from rice, and they all had low CVD and cancer incidence. What evidence makes you believe that eating large quantity of grains is harmful?

    SFAs not harmful? Maybe we did not read the same paper. Here’s just the tips of the icebeg:

    Overfeeding Polyunsaturated and
    Saturated Fat Causes Distinct Effects on Liver and Visceral Fat Accumulation in

    Saturated fat
    stimulates obesity and hepatic
    steatosis and affects gut microbiota
    composition by an enhanced overflow
    of dietary fat to the distal intestine

    Consumption of Saturated Fat
    Impairs the Anti-Inflammatory Properties of High-Density Lipoproteins and
    Endothelial Function

    A saturated fatty acid–rich diet
    induces an obesity-linked proinflammatory gene expression profile in adipose
    tissue of subjects at risk of metabolic syndrome

    Substituting dietary saturated fat
    with polyunsaturated fat changes abdominal fat distribution and improves insulin sensitivity.

    High saturated
    fat and low carbohydrate
    diet decreases lifespan
    independent of body weight
    in mice

    High dietary intake of saturated
    fat is associated with reduced semen quality among 701 young Danish men from the general population

    And the effect of SFAs on cholesterol level is well known. Now if you chose to ignore the lipid hypothesis you are doing so at your own risk. But that SFAs are harmful is beyond proven to me. But we will indeed have to agree to disagree.

    Meat would be even longer, and truthfully this probably won’t change anything to your point of view so that’s enough of my time.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Dion Kerfont

    What hole is that? The one you’re digging pretending that it’s one of my creation? You’re the one that states meat is the cause of all of our ills, yet when presented with facts disputing that, all you can do is say I’m digging a hole. If you have evidence outside of sites like, present it. You haven’t refuted one thing I said… you just keep insisting the “hole is deeper”.

    Let’s view this overwhelming volume of evidence you have… because without it, you’re the one in the hole.

  • oehaut

    Lol, mate. What ”facts” did you present that dispute my claims? I’ve scrolled back but did not see any study that you presented.

    I have not refute anything? You did not even knew what the SAD diet was, you were confusing it with the prudent diet, recommended by health agencies.

    My guess is that you are totally un-educated in the fieild of nutrition and most likely science.

    I’m not the one claiming mainstream science is wong. The burden of proof is on you to show that meat is healthy. if you are making such claim.

    Just type meat+mortality, or vegan+mortality in google scholar if you want to educate yourself and start from there. That’s not my job.

    I said that you were in a hole because you keep talking about thing you clearly have no idea about and are making sure the whole world sees it, making you look quite ridiculous.

    As for the rest of your post, It seems your mind can’t get around the fact that both meat and processed carbs can be detrimental to health, and that science still can isolate the effect of the two.

    That was quite a waste of my time truthfully, this shall be my last answer.

    Good luck.

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  • Dion Kerfont

    Here’s the thing: I’ve done that. And no, unlike yourself, I didn’t just read the articles that supported my position. The confirmation bias is strong with this one…

    Pretty much all of the “studies” condemning red meat are based on data obtained through food surveys. Now, while I’m sure you’re quite exceptional when it comes to recalling exactly what and how much you ate 2 weeks, 2 months or even 2 years ago, I’m willing to bet the average person cannot possibly recall exactly what they ate even 2 days ago with any amount of accuracy. So you’re going to sit there with a straight face and tell me we can draw accurate conclusions from such data? For someone bragging about how “scientifically-minded” they are, you certainly seem to ignore the source of your data… which is the most important factor in a study: if your data is worthless, then so is your study.

    Anything can be detrimental to your health if you consume it in excess… including meat. However, meat isn’t quite as much to blame as most people like yourself make it out to be… there are many more factors at play. Considering we evolved consuming meat, I’m going to guess that meat alone isn’t the cause of all our ills. Maybe, just maybe, you can open up that scientific mind of yours to other possibilities.

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  • Spike Dude

    your “educated guesses” are not very educated but I commend you for acknowledging your “incomplete understanding of reality”. Why do you assume I am a low-carber and how on earth can you know what I am here for?

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  • Lana

    I’m actually from Hong Kong, China, and I’m currently in Asia. Thank you for sharing carbsane. Yes I agree with you. Our ancestors ate a mainly plant-based diet (high carbs). In my experience, there were not as much health problems then. However, as the Chinese got richer, many started consuming more meat and neglected what their ancestors eat (poor man’s diet as Dr. McDougall said) and started developing “Western” diseases such as diabetes, etc. I’m not sure how / why Chinese who ate low fat / high carb diet got a lot of problems, where this is based, and what this “low fat/high carb” diet which causes such “problems” entails. I’d be curious to know. Thanks for sharing carbsane.

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  • Mariam Al-ani

    I think that the dietary guidelines are the foundation of
    nutrition policy. Dietary guidelines are authoritative advice about consuming fewer calories and making informed food decision as well as maintaining a healthy weight. The overall aim on the new dietary guideline of 2015 that was recently released is to reduce the risk of chronic disease and promote overall health. The dietary guideline affect the nutritional patterns across the country, for instant the federal subsidies school lunches, labels on food packages, and dietitians advises for healthy eating.

    There are few interesting areas that were covered in the new
    dietary guideline for 2015 for the first time. Actually, for the first
    time, the US the dietary guideline is setting limits for added sugar. The new guideline on added sugar is “no more than 10% of calories”. The American heart association suggests that the limit sugar intake is 16 spoon of added sugar for women and 9 spoons for men. The question is how we implement that in our life? The answer is easy, eat less processed sweets and commercial sweets, drink fewer sugar
    sweetened beverages, eat more whole food. Sugar intake is associated with cardiovascular disease type II diabetes, so definitely there is a need for such a recommendation to limit the sugar intake.

    The 2015 dietary guideline update the salt intake, after considering the scientific evidences of how much salt is too much. The dietary guideline
    advisory panel has noted that years of pressure to lower the sodium levels not having much effect.

    The last major change in the new dietary guideline is the recommendation for less red and processed meat. As a professional in the field of nutrition, it is important for me that beef is recognized for the great food it is related to the presence of bioactive nutrients, including iron. However, too much of red and processed meet was linked to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Both of these diseases are listed in the leading cause of death in the US.

    The aim of the dietary guideline is to set the gold standards for diet across the US. Moving forward, we need to find a ways to make sure that the dietary guideline is balanced, science based, well rounded,
    and it’s going to be the future for at least 5 years for nutrition feeding programs, for women, schools, military, etc. We also need to think that everyday new scientific evidence is added. Those scientific evidences are the guide for the future changes in the dietary guideline.

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  • Germaine

    I believe that Ms. Teicholz is correct. I am only healthy with high saturated fats in my diet and lots of them! Why are people trying to discredit her?

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