by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Dietary-Guidelines

Apr 19 2022

Again? Yes (sigh). Dietary Guidelines. The research questions

I can hardly believe it but we are going to have to endure another round of dietary guidelines, these for 2025-2030.

Why endure?

Because they have basically said the same things since 1980:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Balance calories
  • Don’t eat too much of foods high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar

As I am fond of quoting Michael Pollan: “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”

The wording changes from edition to edition.  The editions get longer and longer.  And the basic problems—nutrients as euphemisms for the foods that contain them, more and more obfuscation–stay the same.

But maybe not this time?

ODPHP, the Health and Human Service Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (of which I am an alum) has just announced “Proposed Scientific Questions to Inform the Development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2025-2030: Available for Public Comment April 15 to May 16!

The questions whose answers will form the research basic of the forthcoming guidelines are listed here.

Several break new or necessary ground:

  • What is the relationship between consumption of dietary patterns with varying amounts of ultra-processed foods and growth, size, body composition, risk of overweight and obesity, and weight loss and maintenance?  Comment: This was one of my big criticisms of the 2020-2025 guidelines; the word “ultraprocessed” was never mentioned, yet I consider it the most important nutrition concept to come along in decades.  So this is a big step forward.
  • What is the relationship between beverage consumption (beverage patterns, dairy milk and milk alternatives, 100% juice, low- or no-calorie sweetened beverages, sugar-sweetened beverages, coffee, tea, water) and growth, size, body composition, risk of overweight and obesity, and weight loss and maintenance? risk of type 2 diabetes?  Comment: it will be good to have this clarified.
  • What is the relationship between food sources of saturated fat consumed and risk of cardiovascular disease?  Comment: This is an old issue but one under attack as being irrelevant.  Let’s get it settled, if that is possible.
  • What is the relationship between specific food-based strategies during adulthood and body composition, risk of overweight and obesity, and weight loss and maintenance?  Comment: With luck, this will resolve the diet wars over low-carb v. low-fat, etc.  My prediction: they all work for some people.
  • What is the relationship between specific food-based strategies during adulthood and body composition, risk of overweight and obesity, and weight loss and maintenance?  Comment:  Finally, an unambiguous demand for research on diet and obesity (as opposed to euphemisms).

What’s missing here?  I think they should have a question on meat, since evidence on risk/benefit is also controversail.  OK, saturated fat is a euphemism for meat, but let’s stop using euphemisms.

What’s being ducked, at least in the guidelines?

There are two topics not on the list of questions to be examined by the 2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that will be addressed in separate processes.

  • Alcoholic beverages remain a high priority topic, but because it requires significant, specific expertise and has unique considerations, it will be examined in a separate effort led by HHS Agencies that support work on this topic.
  • Sustainability and the complex relationship between nutrition and climate change is an important, cross-cutting, and high priority topic that also requires specific expertise. HHS and USDA will address this topic separate from the Committee’s process to inform work across the Departments.

Want to weigh in on this (please do!):  here’s how (read and follow the directions carefully to have maximum impact)

As usual ConscienHealth has interesting things to say about all this.  I particularly enjoyed:

So it’s both unsurprising and unimpressive to hear that people with strong views about nutrition believe the process is rife with conflicts of interest. A group that is disenchanted with the last output from this process lays it out with a new paper in Public Health Nutrition. But Tamar Haspel made the same point much more efficiently in a recent tweet:

“I think they should just let me write the Dietary Guidelines and call it a day.”

This also reminds me about the need to select a scientific committee as free of conflicted interests as possible.  The last committee was rife with them.  HHS/USDA ought to be starting the committee selection process fairly soon.  Stay tuned.

Nov 16 2021

The American Heart Association’s new and groundbreaking dietary guidelines

The American Heart Association (AHA) has just issued its latest set of dietary guidelines aimed at preventing the leading cause of death in the United States: 2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association.

Because AHA guidelines apply not only to coronary heart disease but also to all other chronic disease conditions—and sustainability issues—influenced by dietary practices, they deserve special attention.

Most of these repeat and reinforce the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The two big differences in the recommendations:

  • Clarifying protein recommendations: these include all sources but emphasize plant sources (#4)
  • Including a new one: minimize ultra-processed foods (#6)

These recommendations are way ahead of the US Dietary Guidelines in recognizing how much ultra-processed foods contribute to poor health, and how important it is to minimize their intake.

Also unlike the US guidelines, these are unambiguous and easily summarized.

 

The statement is worth reading for its emphasis on two other points.

  • This dietary pattern addresses problems caused by other chronic conditions and also has a low environmental impact.
  • Following this dietary pattern requires much more than personal responsibility for food choices.  It requires societal changes as well.

The press release summarizes the problems in society that make following healthy diets so difficult, if not impossible:

  • Widespread dietary misinformation from the Internet;
  • A lack of nutrition education in grade schools and medical schools;
  • Food and nutrition insecurity – According to references cited in the statement, an estimated 37 million Americans had limited or unstable access to safe and nutritious foods in 2020;
  • Structural racism and neighborhood segregation, whereby many communities with a higher proportion of racial and ethnic diversity have few grocery stores but many fast-food outlets; and
  • Targeted marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds through tailored advertising efforts and sponsorship of events and organizations in those communities.

As the statement concludes: “Creating an environment that facilitates, rather than impedes, adherence to heart-healthy dietary patterns among all individuals is a public health imperative.”

Amen to that.

Comment: From my perspective, this statement thoroughly supersedes the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which—because they say nothing about ultra-processed foods , differential protein sources, sustainability, or doing anything to counter societal determinants of poor diets—were out of date the instant they appeared.

Some of the details of the AHA statement will be debated but its overall approach should not be.

The committee that put these guidelines together deserves much praise for basing its advice on today’s research and most pressing societal needs.

Additional AHA Resources:

Jul 16 2021

Weekend food for thought (a good one!)

I saw this in a tweet from the Politico cartoonist, Matt Wuerker.  It’s too good not to share.

Mar 30 2021

One picture….

Mar 29 2021

Annals of marketing: honey to dietitians

A dietitian colleague forwarded this message from Today’s Dietitian.

Honey may be made by bees, but it is mainly glucose and fructose just like any other sugars.

A few “food-for-thought” questions:

  • Should dietetic publications be promoting sugars of any kind?
  • Should dietitians be recommending honey to their clients?
  • Should dietitians allow their publications to accept ads like this?

 

Feb 5 2021

Weekend reading: government incentives for alcoholic beverage companies

This report documents how government policies—in the U.S. and internationally—promote and protect makers of booze, wine, and beer, despite the demonstrably harmful effects of those products on health and society.

How do governments do this?

  • Development assistance
  • Tax breaks
  • Tax rebates
  • Marketing deductions
  • Production subsidies
  • Trade agreements

Why do they do this?  Lobbying and tax revenues.

If you want to understand why the USDA and HHS “found no evidence” for reducing the alcohol recommendation in the 2020 Dietary Guidelines, read this report.

Jan 5 2021

More on the 2020 Dietary Guidelines

I only have a few more comments about the Dietary Guidelines beyond what I posted last week.

One is my surprise that the USDA did not do a new food guide.  The existing one, after all, dates from the Obama administration.  It has not changed.

Here’s how it is explained in the new guidelines:

My translation: Eat more plant foods, eat less meat, avoid ultraprocessed foods (including sugary beverages).

This requires a translation because the guidelines say nothing about ultraprocessed junk foods, and they try hard to avoid singling out foods to avoid.

These guidelines are similar to those in 2015 and are, therefore, woefully out of date.

They do mention the pandemic, once:

The importance of following the Dietary Guidelines across all life stages has been brought into focus even more with the emergence of COVID-19, as people living with diet-related chronic conditions and diseases are at an increased risk of severe illness from the novel coronavirus (p. 4).

They do mention food insecurity several times, for example:

In 2019, 10.5 percent of households were food insecure at least some time during the year. Food insecurity occurs when access to nutritionally adequate and safe food is limited or uncertain. Food insecurity can be temporary or persist over time, preventing individuals and families from following a healthy dietary pattern that aligns with the Dietary Guidelines. The prevalence of food insecurity typically rises during times of economic downturn as households experience greater hardship. Government and nongovernment nutrition assistance programs help alleviate food insecurity and play an essential role by providing food, meals, and educational resources so that participants can make healthy food choices within their budget (p. 50).

And they do mention food assistance programs (on page 81), although they do not discuss how the USDA has been relentless in trying to cut those programs.

Nothing about food systems.  Nothing about the effects of food production and consumption on climate change and sustainablity.

Nothing about eating less meat other than implying that eating less processed meat might be a good idea.

One other point: the complexity is increasing.  Here is the history of the page numbers:

As I’m fond of saying, Michael Pollan can do all this in seven words: “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”

If we can’t do better than this 164 pages of obfuscation, isn’t it about time to stop requiring these things every five years?

Here’s what other people are saying about them

 

Dec 29 2020

The 2020 Dietary Guidelines released today

So much for my plan to take the week off.

The new 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines came out today.  See them at DietaryGuidelines.gov.  The new guidelines are much the same as the ones in 2015.

The big news: They paid no attention to the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (I covered this in a previous post).

USDA and HHS overrode the scientific decisions of the DGAC.  So much for “science-based” dietary guidelines.

I would love to know what the members of the DGAC think of this.

More later.  These come from the USDA’s press release.

And here’s the USDA’s explanation, such as it is, of why it overrode the decisions of the DGAC on sugar and alcohol