July 9, 2010

Attempts to Steer 2010 Dietary Guidelines

DG graphicYesterday, July 8th, I spent about 4 hours at USDA (Wash, DC), listening to public comments to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) Report published on June 15, 2010 (see my executive summary Digesting the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and theirs). Want to weigh in? Written comments are being accepted until July 15.

People who made public comments had 3 minutes each to state their case and not one second more. Speakers ranged from a few impassioned (yet, somewhat naïve) students, to researchers presenting their sacred body of research wondering how and why the DGAC missed it, to health organizations and food and commodity group representatives either praising or chastising the committee’s conclusions. All in all, a worthwhile, (and at times humorous – the PETA spokesperson was followed by the National Milk Producers Federation), listen. And, of course, many conflicting views. All will be “carefully considered,” according to the USDA and HHS staff sitting on stage.

Also of interest: who attended in silence, who spoke for what organizations and subtle agendas. Ah, let the sausage-making of the Dietary Guidelines begin! A final product? December, according to USDA and HHS officials.

And what did the “public” have to say...?

  • Naivety and lack of reality-based comments were pervasive particularly among the advocates for total upheaval of America’s eating habits. While I know we’ve got lots of changes in our collective eating habits that need to happen, a firm dose of reality is a must here. A number of these speakers suggested it was the very Dietary Guidelines (only recently required) that are to blame for American’s disastrous eating habits and horrible health. Hmmm – now that’s a stretch. Ya think Americans are following the Dietary Guidelines? Not I!
  • Rightly so speakers acknowledged that the Dietary Guidelines were originally written for “healthy Americans.” The 2010 iteration is unfortunately geared to unhealthy (or on their way) Americans. Consider 66% of adults are overweight or obese, about 20% of children are overweight or obese, millions of people (including children) have high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes (many often have all three). And that’s not to mention myriad other poor diet-related health (physical and mental) disorders.
  • Much praise was given to the push for plant-based (whole foods, whole-grains, fruit and vegetable) nutrient dense eating style recommended. The Produce Marketing Association, Produce for Better Health Foundation and others praised this orientation. Can you bet the groups that weren’t pleased with the “meat in moderation” message? You got it, the meat folks, from that National Cattleman’s Beef Association to the National Pork Producers Council.
  • Several comments were made from vegetarian and vegan supporters, and rightly so, to make following these eating plans, “less scary” and to shed the notion about the need to complement grains, nuts, etc. for complete protein. That concept harkens back to Diet for a Small Planet which has been deemed old school.
  • Processed meats were painted as a health and longevity villain, particularly in regards to colon cancer. This point was made by several cancer-focused organizations, The Cancer Project and American Institute for Cancer Research. Of course the American Meat Institute had conflicting views and talked about how their industry is working hard to lower sodium and other health-harming ingredients.
  • Another healthy eating evil – added sugars, were on the DGAC’s firing line (and in my opinion, very rightly so). But there, as usual, to defend added sugars, was The Sugar Association. The conflicting view was provided by Professor and dietitian Rachel Johnson for the American Heart Association among others, which has taken on the hazards of added sugars in a big way. Thanks!
  • The need to focus on fiber was raised by several fiber champions including Professor Dennis Gordon. The bone he had to pick with the DGAC is that it’s all fine and well to talk about how people should eat more dietary fiber from whole foods (including whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, etc.), but reality is that with Americans currently consuming half the fiber we need, this recommendation won’t likely budge the fiber needle too far upwards. He recommended a more realistic approach – getting fiber from whole foods as well as from foods added fiber sources. (Sounds fine as long as those fibers have demonstrated health benefits.)

And if you’re chomping at the bit for more details, you’ll be able to cull through all the public and the written comments online soon…as well as all else 2010 Dietary Guidelines. Just make sure you have a day or two open on your calendar.