The Good, the Bad, and the Omitted
An exploration of the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines
We compare and contrast published scientific research and the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines with David Katz, MD.
After looking over the newly-released 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, we were taken aback by the differences between the published guidelines and the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee— the scientific report given to the government to help inform the dietary guideline decisions. So what were the big agreements, discrepancies, and pitfalls?
SCIENTIFIC REPORT: • Advises everyone to normalize intake of saturated fat, total fat, and added sugars • Recommends everyone adhere to a consistent exercise regimen • Explains cholesterol is no longer to be feared, and is important to various body processes
DIETARY GUIDELINES: • Advises everyone to limit saturated fat, total fat, and added sugars • Mentions exercise is important, and recommends weekly activity • Explains cholesterol is not worth the worry assigned to it
We are pleased to see the dietary guidelines adhere to what we have known for years: added sugars destroy your health, and exercise is vital to overall wellness. It’s also very gratifying to see the truth about cholesterol printed in national recommendations.
SCIENTIFIC REPORT: • Recommends everyone should cut down on meat consumption • Recommends everyone should avoid processed meat whenever possible due to carcinogen concerns
DIETARY GUIDELINES: • Recommends only men and boys should cut down on meat consumption • Insists processed meat is okay within “nutrient thresholds”
It is hard not to see the government and meat industry canoodling here. Despite recommendations in the scientific report and numerous studies that show plant-based diets with small amounts of meat are beneficial for everyone, the final dietary guidelines do not commit to recommending less meat. Additionally, they do not commit to a cautious stance on carcinogenic processed meats.
Round 3: The Omitted
SCIENTIFIC REPORT: • Calls out specific products and food choices that are bad news bears (like soda), gives specifics on sugars to avoid, and gives specific advice on how to improve health through diet • Lauds sustainable food sources as an easy way to get more nutrients while considering the resources we have on our planet and in our country
DIETARY GUIDELINES: • Avoids specifics at all costs, and instead relies on terms like “nutrient thresholds,” and “shifting” eating patterns • Fails to mention sustainability entirely
COMMENTARY: Unfortunately, the dietary guidelines are awash with vague terms and nonspecifics. Yes, they mention limiting sugar, but the guidelines fail to mention how to do so, leaving consumers with the responsibility of deciding if a 20-ounce soda fits into “nutrient thresholds.” The guidelines have also shifted focus away from “food” and towards “nutrients” as if the protein content in bacon will somehow defeat any carcinogens ingested.
Sustainability is a growing problem. In the United States, 92 percent of our water usage is attributed to producing our food, and then more than 40 percent of food produced is thrown away. Why didn’t the dietary guidelines guide consumers about the sustainability of different products? Lentils and beans take only 5 gallons of water per gram of protein, followed by eggs at 7.7 gallons/ gram, milk at 8.2 gallons/gram, and chicken at 9 gallons/gram. Beef topples the scale, requiring 29.6 gallons of water per gram of protein.
While there are merits to the 2015 dietary guidelines, ultimately we will be waiting on specifics, a solid stance on meat, and sustainability recommendations for the next five years. Here’s to 2020!
Sources: Water Footprint Network, Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020, and the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee