Every five years, a long, and one would have to believe expensive process, ensues where a lengthy list of people with Ph.D.s and MDs behind their names work on a report that will be the foundation for Dietary Guidelines for the next five years. This year's report was 835 pages. Using that data, a new set of Dietary Guidelines was released by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services at the end of 2020. Did this process, which many say has become overly politicized, change recommendations regarding protein consumption?
In a word: no. It appears, when it comes to red meat consumption, the committee held the line where it was set during the previous five years. And, no news appears to be good news on that front.
Danielle Beck, senior executive director of government affairs, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), commented on the research committee's recommendations prior to the formal release of the new guidelines. She said in an email response to DTN/Progressive Farmer editors that thanks to work by NCBA, the process was "a far more fair and balanced process" when compared to the development of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines.
Beck believes the committee's 2020 scientific report was "focused on sound nutritional science," while it largely maintained recommendations from 2015. She called new recommendations focused on birth to 24 months encouraging for beef and noted she believed they "recognized beef's overall role as part of a healthy, balanced diet."
WHAT RESEARCHERS SAY
For the first time, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee expanded recommendations to include children ages 12 to 24 months. It also considered the impact of food insecurity on Americans' health.
Reviewing the Committee's executive summary, the bad news comes early. This is the news Americans pretty much ignore. To put it in a nutshell, we are fat (70% overweight or obese), and we are sick (six in 10 have one chronic condition; four in 10 have two or more chronic conditions). Adding to the bad news: food insecurity and a lack of access to affordable and healthy food.
Using 2018 data, the committee reported more than 37 million people (6 million of them children) live in households uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet their needs. The committee noted it began work on its report in March 2019, and when it was submitted, the country was in the midst of a pandemic. The group wrote as more was learned about the infection, "it is clear that it has significant nutritional implications."
Those most at risk for serious outcomes from COVID-19, it surmised, would be those afflicted by diet-related chronic diseases. "Throughout the world, the consequences of physical isolation and financial disruption by the threat of COVID-19 infection have led to significant increases in food insecurity and hunger, furthering increasing susceptibility to both infectious and diet-related chronic disease," Barbara Schneeman, committee chair, and Ronald Kleinman, vice chair, reported.
THE FINAL REPORT TELLS US
The theme of the finalized report is "Make Every Bite Count." This ninth edition of the dietary guidelines starts at birth. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar notes the revised guidelines were expanded to provide new guidance for infants, toddlers and pregnant and breastfeeding women.
To summarize, the recommendations are broken into four areas. The first carries one from birth to a year of age; the second tells everyone to eat nutrient-dense foods and beverages that "reflect our personal preferences, cultural traditions and budgetary consideration"; the third tells us to stay within our calorie limits; and the fourth says we need to limit foods and beverages that are "higher in added sugars, saturated fat and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages."
Step 4 is the real joy killer. Specifically, the guidelines state added sugars should make up less than 10% of someone's daily caloric intake beginning at age 2. Saturated fat should make up less than 10% of daily caloric intake. Sodium should be held at less than 2,300 milligrams per day. And, alcohol should be limited to no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women.
How does red meat fare in these recommendations? Nothing specific in the report points to red meat positively or negatively. The emphasis is on lean meats, and seafood is singled out as protein intake is discussed through the guidelines, noting that "almost 90% do not meet the recommendation for seafood, and more than half do not meet the recommendation for nuts, seeds and soy products."
About 43% of all protein is consumed as what is called "a separate food item," such as a chicken breast, a steak, an egg, a fish fillet or peanuts. About the same percentage (48%) is consumed in a mixed dish -- the largest being sandwiches, burgers and tacos.
"Shifts are needed within the protein foods group to add variety to subgroup intakes," the guidelines note. "Selecting from the seafood subgroup or the beans, peas and lentils subgroup more often could help meet recommendations while still ensuring adequate protein consumption.
"Replacing processed or high-fat meats with seafood could help lower intake of saturated fat and sodium, nutrients that are often consumed in excess of recommended limits."
Recommendations for adults ages 19 through 59 set a daily allotment of protein at 5 ounces for a 1,600-calorie diet; up to 7 ounces for a 3,000-calorie diet. For the week, it says adults should consume (based on daily caloric intake needs) 23 to 33 ounces of meats, poultry, eggs; 8 to 10 ounces of seafood; and 4 to 6 ounces of nuts, seeds and soy products.
There does appear to be room for improvement when it comes to following healthy dietary guidelines. The report notes while adherence to the guidelines varies by age, when looked at under the Healthy Eating Index, where scores range from 0 to 100, Americans tend to fall between a score of 51 and 63.
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