by Marion Nestle

Search results: dietary guidelines

Jun 6 2024

Dietary guidelines III. They haven’t changed since the late 1950s

Despite all the fuss about the guidelines every five years, they say the same things every time: eat more fruits and vegetables (plant foods), balance calories (good luck with that), and reduce intake of saturated fat, sugars, and salt (euphemisms for ultra-processed foods).

You don’t believe me?  Take a look:

Ancel and Margaret Keys’ 1959 dietary guidelines for prevention of coronary heart disease.*

  1. Do not get fat, if you are fat, reduce.
  2. Restrict saturated fats, the fats in beef, pork, lamb, sausages, margarine, solid shortenings, fats in dairy products.
  3. Prefer vegetable oils to solid fats, but keep total fats under 30% of your diet calories.
  4. Favor fresh vegetables, fruits, and non-fat milk products.
  5. Avoid heavy use of salt and refined sugar.
  6. Good diets do not depend on drugs and fancy preparations.
  7. Get plenty of exercise and outdoor recreation.
  8. Be sensible about cigarettes, alcohol, excitement, business strain.
  9. See your doctor regularly, and do not worry.

*Keys A, Keys M.  Eat Well and Stay Well.  New York: Doubleday & Co, 1959.

The concept of ultra-processed foods encompasses much of this.  We would be better off eating less of them.

It shouldn’t take all this work every five years to come to this conclusion.

So why all the fuss?  I’d call it food politics.

If people ate healthfully, chronic disease prevalence would decline and lots of industries would be out of business: junk food, diet foods, diet drugs, and those profiting from health care.

Jun 5 2024

Dietary guidelines II. Where is rigorous nutrition research?

In considering the effects of ultra-processed foods, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) only dealt with observational research.

It excluded what I consider the most important study ever done to explain weight gain: the  controlled clinical trial of ultra-processed versus processed diets done at NIH in 2019.

This study is hugely important for four reasons:

  1. The ultra-processed and minimally processed diets were matched for nutrients and palatability; study subjects could not tell which was which.
  2. Study subjects were in a metabolic ward, imprisoned; they could not lie or cheat about what they ate.
  3. The investigators were trying to disprove the idea that ultra-processed foods do anything special.
  4. The results were unambiguous; subjects ate 500 calories more on the ultra-processed diets; this is an enormous difference; studies rarely show anything like this.

The DGAC was instructed to ignore this study because it only lasted 4 weeks.  This is a travesty.

But it is not the only travesty.

NIH has chosen to cut the capacity of the metabolic facility.  It has reduced the number of beds to seven, shared among investigators, and allowing Hall only two beds at a time.  This means any study with enough subjects to meaningfully answer questions has to be done two at a time, taking many months or years.

As a Senate Committee said in a recent report: NIH In the 21st Century: Ensuring Transparency and American Biomedical Leadership,


Writing in Politico a year or so ago, Helena Bottemiller Evich said:

Take NIH. In 2018, the agency invested $1.8 billion in nutrition research, or just under 5 percent of its total budget. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service spends significantly less; last year, the agency devoted $88 million, or a little more than 7 percent of its overall budget, to human nutrition, virtually the same level as in 1983 when adjusted for inflation. That means USDA last year spent roughly 13 times more studying how to make agriculture more productive than it did trying to improve Americans’ health or answer questions about what we should be eating.

Nutrition science has become such a low priority at NIH that the agency earlier this year proposed closing the only facility on its campus for highly controlled nutrition studies.

What’s going on?  Why aren’t NIH and USDA doing everything possible to help prevent obesity and its consequences.  Chronic diseases are leading causes of death and disability.  Three quarters of American adults are overweight.  The American public needs help.

Shouldn’t research on chronic disease be a major national priority?

Shouldn’t NIH be doing everything possible to answer questions about ultra-processed foods?

Kevin Hall explained the need in Science in 2020:

investment in research facilities for domiciled feeding studies could provide the infrastructure and staff required to simultaneously house and feed dozens of subjects comfortably and safely. One possibility would be to create centralized domiciled feeding facilities that could enable teams of researchers from around the world to recruit a wide range of subjects and efficiently conduct rigorous human nutrition studies that currently can only be performed on a much smaller scale in a handful of existing facilities.

I think yes.

The DGAC report called for research that

Tests the effects of dietary patterns with UPF that are matched for energy-density but vary in diet quality in relation to health outcomes, preferably using well-controlled trials in the U.S.

If the DGAC needs that research, NIH should insist on and enthusiastically support such studies.

Jun 4 2024

Dietary guidelines I. Ultra-processed foods

I don’t like writing about the dietary guidelines process while it is still ongoing because so much can change between now and the time the advisory committee submits its report, and USDA and HHS issue the actual guidelines.

But this Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is dealing with the concept of ultra-processed foods and is tied in knots over it.

So I will devote this week to the guidelines.

  • Today: Why knots?
  • Wednesday: Why isn’t NIH funding more rigorous nutrition research?
  • Thursday:  Why all the fuss when guidelines always say the same things?

OK.  Let’s get to it.

Why do I think the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) is tied in knots over ultra-processed foods (UPF)?

  1. It  is required to make evidence-based recommendations.  This is impossible with observational evidence.
  2. It is required to exclude the one existing controlled clinical trial from consideration (because it was too short).

Therefore, it had to conclude: ““Limited evidence suggests that dietary patterns with higher amounts of foods classified as UPF consumed by adults and older adults are associated with greater adiposity (fat mass, waist circumference, BMI) and risk of obesity/overweight. Evidence Grade: Limited.”

The DGAC is in an impossible position, and doing the best it can under the circumstances.

I need to say a word about evidence-based recommendations.  How I wish they could be.   If all you have is observational studies, you need to interpret them carefully.  Interpretation is subject to bias.

When I was a DGAC member (1995 guidelines), the agencies recognized what we were up against.  They instructed us to review the available research and give the best advice we possibly could based on it.

All of this raises a philosophical question: Should government agencies issue advice based on incomplete and inadequately controlled observational research?  Or should they say nothing?

This committee, apparently, is considering saying nothing about ultra-processed foods: “It would be hugely problematic to tell people to avoid 60% of the food supply without having something good to replace it.”

Really?  Plenty of “something good” is available.  It’s called food: fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, fish, dairy, eggs.

These—unprocessed and minimally processred—can be delicious, nutritious, and satisfying, and at reasonable cost.


Tomorrow: Why don’t we have more rigorous research?

Addition:  The video of the meeting.  The discussion of ultra-processed foods starts at 3:51:45 .

Feb 23 2024

Weekend reading: FAO calls for food systems-based dietary guidelines

The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is taking the lead on bringing dietary guidelines into the 21st Century.

It is calling for national dietary guidelines not only to be nutrient-based and food-based, but food systems-based.

Food systems-based guidelines extend beyond food-based guidelines that “provide advice on foods, food groups and dietary patterns to provide the required nutrients to the general public to promote overall health and prevent chronic diseases.”

Food system-based guidelines not only address health and nutritional priorities but also consider sociocultural, economic, and environmental sustainability factors.  This means

context-specific multilevel recommendations that enable governments to outline what constitutes a healthy diet from sustainable food systems, align food-related policies and programmes and support the population to adopt healthier and more sustainable dietary patterns and practices that favour, among other outcomes, environmental sustainability and socio-economic equity.

This is a huge advance.  It means that sustainability issues are essential components of dietary advice.

From now on, dietary guidelines that do not consider sustainability are out of date.

Note: By order of Congress, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines did not consider sustainability in its meat recommendations and sustainability was off the table for the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines and also for the 2025-2030 version now underway.  This means the new guidelines issues in 2025 will be dated and largely irrelevant to the modern era.

Unless the Advisory Committee gets to work.  I hope it does.

Oct 17 2023

US Right to Know reports on conflicts of interest in members of the 2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee

I received an emailed press release from Gary Ruskin at US Right to Know: Report: Nearly Half of Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Have Conflicts of Interest.

Nine out of 20 members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee have conflicts of interest with food, pharmaceutical, or weight loss companies or industry groups with a stake in the outcome of the guidelines, according to a new report published today by the nonprofit public health research group U.S. Right to Know. An additional four members had possible conflicts of interest. The report found that Abbott, Novo Nordisk, National Dairy Council, Eli Lilly, and Weight Watchers (WW) International had ties to two or more DGAC members.

My immediate reaction: Only 9?  Last time, it was 19 out of 20.

Some background

The agencies responsible for the guidelines, HHS and USDA, issued aggregated disclosures of committee members relationships with industry. These treated real conflicts (Mars, Egg Nutrition Center, Novo Nordisk) with non-conflicts (National Science Foundation, Ohio Department of Medicaid) as if they were equivalent; they are not.

The sponsoring agencies have always argued that it is impossible to find nutrition experts without industry ties.  I disagree.  It’s just that people like me who are careful to avoid industry ties are considered too biased to serve on such committees (or so I’ve been told, repeatedly—I’ve not been asked to serve on a federal committee since Food Politics came out).

Do industry ties influence the report?  This is less of a problem than it used to be.  When I was on the DGAC in 1995, our committee set the research questions, did the research, wrote the research report, and wrote the actual Dietary Guidelines.  The agencies did light editing.

That changed in 2010 (administration of Bush II) when the agencies took over writing the guidelines.

In 2020, the agencies wrote the research questions, and they did so again this round.

This means that the only thing left for the DGAC to do is to review the research on questions determined by the agencies.

What is US Right to Know?

This group has initiated and “co-authored 15 peer-reviewed public health studies revealing how the food and beverage industries and industry-funded groups try to influence public opinion, scientific research, public health conferences and government policies related to diet and nutrition.”

A reader, Leah Murphy, wrote me questioning USRTK’s funding (see Appendix D in the report).

“Funding for the report was provided by Feed the Truth, a 501c3 non-profit that is funded by the Lubetzky Family Foundation.”

Daniel Lubetzky is the founder of KIND, a food company.  My point is that a food company funds the non-profit that funded the report. And that seems to undermine the credibility of their report and could qualify under their definition as a COI.

Ordinarily, I would agree that this could be a problem, but not in this instance.  In a previous post on Feed the Truth, I say:

 I was part of a team that suggested names for members of the group’s board.  Once Lubetzky set up the funding, he has had nothing further to do with the group.

From what I’ve been told, that is still true.  Feed the Truth does not have a website, in part because it is closing shop and not giving out more grants.  You can read about its earlier stages in Influence Watch,  Cause IQ, and Cision PR Newswire, but these are now out of date.

USRTK is doing important work and lots of it.  It’s worth following it.


May 30 2023

Mexico’s terrific new dietary guidelines. Yes!

Mexico has issued new dietary guidelines.

  1. Breastfeed babies for the first 6 months and then continue until age 2 along with other nutritious foods.
  2.  Eat more vegetables and fruits.
  3. Eat beans.
  4. Choose whole grains.
  5. Eat less beef and processed meats.
  6. Avoid ultra-processed foods.
  7. Drink water.
  8. Avoid alcohol.
  9. Be physically active.
  10. Enjoy meals with family and friends.

I’m looking forward to reading a case study on how the public health institute got these through the political process.

If people follow these guidelines, these industries will be in trouble:

  • Infant formula
  • Beef
  • Processed meats
  • Ultra-processed foods
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Alcohol

People will be healthier!  These industries will also be in trouble.

  • Pharmaceutical drugs
  • Private medicine
  • Insurance companies? (you might think they would benefit, but they make so much money on illness—this one is complicated)

I hope the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines will find these inspiring.

May 16 2023

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: conflict of interest disclosed, sort of

In a strange partnership, the Nutrition Coalition and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) are jointly complaining about the way the USDA and HHS have “disclosed” conflicts of interest among members of the 2025-2030 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

Why strange?  Because the Nutrition Coalition has long urged relaxations on advice about dietary fat, whereas CSPI has long urged restrictions.

Why “disclosed” in quotes?  Because the agencies’ disclosure statement lists the combined conflicts for the entire group, not for individual members of the committee.

Here’s the committee, courtesy of a tweet from Christopher Gardner.

Here is a small part of what the disclosure list looks like.









Because these are all jumbled together, you have to look hard to pull out the genuine conflicts—-relationships of committee members with food companies with vested interests in the outcome of the guidelines.

The Nutrition Coalition points out that USDA and HHS are failing to:

  • Comply with a National Academies of Science report calling for publicly posting financial and nonfinancial biases and conflicts of interest of committee members.
  • Fully adopt the National Academies’ 11 recommendations.
  • Recognize the significance of the first-ever systematic review of a DGAC’s financial ties. This review found 95% of the 2020 DGAC members had at least one tie with a food or pharmaceutical company and half had 30 such ties or more.

In its statement, CSPI says that it, the Coalition, and 13 other groups are calling on the federal government to disclose potential financial conflicts of interest, including sources of research funding, speakers’ fees, and other relationships.

Press coverage, the statement says, “has already uncovered one 2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee member with a conflict of interest that seems relevant to their role.”

Comment:  I agree that the credibility of the committee and the guidelines depends on transparency, but it’s hard to know how much of a problem this is.

I wanted to compare the disclosure list to the research questions set by the agencies for the committee, but I can no longer find them online.

This reminds me that’s it’s hard to know how much influence the committee will have, in any case, now that the agencies set the research questions and write the actual guidelines.

The advisory committee is just that, advisory.  The agencies do not have to take its advice.

I will be following this closely.  Stay tuned.

Additions, May 17 (thanks to Jerry Mande)


May 3 2023

The 2025-2030 Dietary Guidelines: an update

Personally, I can’t believe we are going through this again since the result will certainly not differ much from previous versions, except in details (see my previous post on this).
But here we are, so let’s get to it.

ODPHP must be in charge this round (leadership passes back and forth between ODPHP and USDA’s nutrition policy office).  It says:

You can get involved by:

  • Attending virtual meetings: View the recording of the first meeting held in February 2023, and register to view the livestream of the second meeting on May 10th on
  • Providing public comments: Comments may be submitted online.
  • Subscribing to email updates: Stay informed on each step of the process by registering for updates.

More details on the Dietary Guidelines development process can be found at

What to expect?

  • Investigative reports on conflicts of interest among members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (members must report conflicted interests but the agencies do not make the reports public)
  • Nothing about sustainability (Off the table; the agencies said there will be a separate report on that.  When?)
  • Nothing about meat (Off the table)
  • Debates about the significance of ultra-processed foods (but only with respect to heart disease)
  • Other issues, surely

My prediction: after an enormous amount of work, the guidelines will say, as they mostly do:

  • Balance calorie intake with expenditure
  • Eat more plant foods (foods)
  • Don’t eat too much salt, sugar, saturated fat (nutrients)
  • And, if we are lucky, minimize or avoid ultra-processed foods

Stay tuned.


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