Ag Policy Blog

Taking the Dietary Guideline Debate With a Grain of Salt

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee met Tuesday in Bethesda, Maryland, to allow for public testimony on the committee's recommendations to USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The committee's report that came out in February caused a firestorm of criticism

The committee basically recommended Americans take up a diet that is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy products, seafood, legumes and nuts. We should cut back on red and processed meats and sugar-sweetened foods, drinks and refined grains. And we should be moderate in our alcohol.

Yet, the advisory committee's recommendations to federal agencies have caused a backlash that has led to outrage from food trade associations and the halls of Congress.

The criticism led Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, to more or less condescendingly describe the scientists on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee as preschoolers who "color outside the lines" on the picture.

Roughly 70 organizations felt the need to weigh in at the hearing on Tuesday about those colored lines and the treatment of their food products.

The North American Meat Institute argued that its review of the committee's work showed more than 70% of its recommendations were not based on information from USDA's Nutritional Evidence Library. Lean meat, poultry, red and processed meats should all be part of a healthy dietary pattern because they are nutrient-dense proteins, explained Betsy Booren, vice president of scientific affairs for the North American Meat Institute.

These products provide Americans a simple, direct, and balanced dietary source of all essential amino acids and are rich sources of micronutrients such as iron, selenium, Vitamins A, B12, and folic acid. While it is common today for food processors to add protein, our products are the obvious and natural protein choice for most Americans,” Booren said.

Booren said HHS and USDA should focus their final policies on information coming out of the Nutritional Evidence Library. Booren also argued that the dietary committee shouldn't be considering issues such as sustainability.

Shalene McNeill, a nutritionist for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, told the committee that its recommendation to exclude lean meat ignores decades of nutrition science.

“Despite being charged with examining new evidence, the Committee based its conclusions on outdated, weak evidence from stereotypical dietary patterns,” said McNeill. “Advising people to cut back on their red meat intake has had harmful consequences. As red meat intake has declined, we are consuming more empty calories and obesity rates have steadily increased. History has shown us that sweeping recommendations often get lost in translation and exacerbate obesity and nutrient shortfalls.”

Rather than cutting back on lean meat, Americans should be encourage to eat more lean meat with more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, McNeill said.

According to the USA Rice Federation, grains groups actually praised the committee for its recommendations that half of grain consumption should come from whole grains. The committee also cited the nutrition value of enriched and fortified grains.

However, the grains guys are not completely thrilled either. The advisory report puts some grains in the "refined grains" category that would be used more for products like cake. "The committee's conclusions that higher consumption of refined grains is linked to higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity are not consistent with a large body of scientific evidence and again, reflect the disconnect in how staple grain products are classified," said Glenn Gaesser, director of the Health Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University who represented some members of the grain industry. Gaesser also is the author of a 2002 book, "Big Fat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight and Your Health."

The National Milk Producers Federation said it's imperative that the 2015 guidelines continue to recommend three servings of milk or dairy foods every day. Also, the agencies should figure out a way to encourage more Americans to increase the current levels of dairy consumption. Most Americans above the age of nine are not consuming the recommended three servings a day.

Shockingly, the Sugar Association Inc. also had a bone to pick with the committee's recommendations. The group noted that the dietary committee had taken "added sugars" into "uncharted territory." The Sugar Association noted that the committee didn't form a working group on added sugars until late in the process and the working group basically cherry-picked its information on added sugars. Moreover, the dietary committee also didn't use enough material from the Nutrition Evidence Library in making its call on added sugars.

"The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommendations for 'added sugars' are not based on the preponderance of new scientific information; therefore, we request the Secretaries maintain the 2010 Dietary Guidelines on 'added sugars,'" said Courtney Gain, vice president of scientific affairs for the Sugar Association.

At this point, I'm starting to wonder if the Nutrition Evidence Library has a positive spin on Twinkies an oatmeal pies, but maybe I'm wrong there.

My deep admiration for the way our food-industry trade associations are fighting for their place at the dinner table is colored by a few small details that I think they fail to acknowledge in their frustration with the committee recommendations. One, more than 78.6 million U.S. adults -- roughly 35% of us -- are obese. So that means a high percentage of us aren't getting the message on a healthy diet. . The obesity rate is 17% for all children and adolescents in the U.S., which is triple the rate from a generation ago. Triple the rate -- that means there are three times as many kids who are obese than just 20-25 years ago. Obesity among adolescents and young adults is one of the biggest problems military recruiters have faced in recent years. That growing obesity rate among our kids was a big reason for improving standards in the school nutrition reauthorization in 2010 that Congress now seeks to gut.

Added to that, more than 9% of Americans have diabetes. The numbers keep going up as well. In 2010, when the last guidelines came out, we had 25.8 million diabetic Americans. By 2012, the number had gone over 29 million.

Apparently a lot of us take the dietary guidelines with a grain of salt.

For a list of groups that weighed into the dietary guidelines debate on Tuesday, go to…

More information about the dietary guidelines can be found at:…

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