It’s January, so there’s obviously no shortage of dietary advice out there. It seems everyone is a self-proclaimed nutrition expert at this time of year. And, if that weren’t enough, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have just released the publication “2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” Every five years the U.S. government releases its updated version of this mostly outdated guide. And while the 2015-2020 date stamp on the publication may attempt to give the illusion of progress, the advice within the document is anything but progressive, for several reasons. Here are some of the problems with the new dietary guidelines:
1. The publication still primarily focuses on food as a means to maintain a healthy weight, and while doing so is an important way to help prevent diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, food is an important means to prevent or heal from many other health conditions beyond weight management. Yet, there is no exploration of food’s healing capacity other than to achieve a healthy weight. Of course, we should strive to attain a healthy weight for our body, but the food we eat should aim to support all aspects of our health. After all, the nutrients found in food literally become the cells in every tissue, organ, gland and organ system in our bodies.
2. Limit sugar consumption to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. A typical 2000 calorie diet could therefore include up to 200 calories in the form of sugar, which still constitutes a high-sugar diet. That’s the equivalent of 51.7 grams of sugar or 12.3 teaspoons of sugar per day. While it is lower than many people eat, no self-respecting nutritionist would ever recommend that high amount of sugar as an upper limit. Considering high amounts of sugar consumption have been linked to many diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer, the recommendation should have been much lower. Check out my blog “High Sugar Consumption Linked to Breast Cancer” for more information. Here’s a sugar calculator if you want to do the math yourself.
3. The guidelines suggest a healthy eating pattern includes dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese or fortified soy products, although unbiased studies not funded by dairy marketing bureaus have found otherwise. Three years ago, independent research from Harvard University concluded dairy is not part of a healthy diet. Check out my blog, “Harvard Declares Dairy NOT Part of a Healthy Diet.” Too bad the government didn’t think the Harvard research was worth considering. And, as for soy, most of it is now genetically-modified and should not be part of dietary guidelines.
4. The guidelines miss an important recommendation to reduce the amount of red meat and processed meat eaten. Two months ago, the World Health Organization’s nutritional science experts declared processed and red meat carcinogenic, yet the U.S. dietary guidelines don’t differentiate between red meat and other forms of meat. This is a huge oversight and probably one sparked by the various meat lobbies. Check out my blog, “World Health Organization Declares Processed Meat Causes Cancer.”
5. The guidelines indicated that a healthy eating pattern limits trans fats. There is NO healthy or acceptable amount of trans fat in the diet. This fat is highly inflammatory in the body, even in small amounts. The guideline should have called for the elimination of trans fats in the diet.
6. The healthy dietary guidelines are the same for all people. As far back as 1956, scientist Dr. Roger Williams released a book called “Biochemical Individuality,” exploring his research which shows everyone has varying nutritional needs and individualizing these nutritional needs is imperative to maintain great health and prevent disease. Over the years, this concept has become increasingly accepted in the field of nutrition, particularly as nutritional science now explores the role of food in preventing diseased genes from “turning on.” Nowhere in the new dietary guidelines is the concept of unique nutritional needs even mentioned.
7. The guidelines recommend eating at least half of the grains in your diet in the form of whole grains. That’s just not sound nutritional advice and is not based on any nutritional science I’ve ever come across. If we include grains in our diet, then all grains, or almost all grains, should be whole grains, not refined grains like white flour. While the Standard American Diet (aptly named SAD) includes large quantities of refined grains, the idea that a person only needs to eat about half of their grains in the form of whole grains while the remainder can be refined will result in wild blood sugar fluctuations linked to inflammation and many chronic diseases like depression or diabetes.
8. The HHS and USDA have a legal requirement to base the guidelines on current scientific and medical knowledge, but so little of the latest nutritional science seems to have been considered in the writing of these guidelines.
9. The guidelines include food sources of potassium, calcium and vitamin D, along with sources of fiber, without mention of other vitamins and minerals. There are dozens of vitamins and minerals that have been completely overlooked. The very definition of “vitamin” is an organic nutrient that is essential to health. Because vitamins like A, the B-complex, C, E and others are absolutely essential to health, perhaps the document should have included food sources for these nutrients, not to mention the food sources of dozens of minerals beyond potassium and calcium.
The guidelines seem less based on current science and more on the strengths of the individual agri-food lobby groups that have manipulated food policy makers in America. Rather than being based on credible nutritional science, it’s obvious the government agencies have found themselves unduly influenced by industry groups. Americans deserve better than these new dietary guidelines.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is a registered nutritionist and international best-selling and 18-time published book author whose works include: 60 Seconds to Slim: Balance Your Body Chemistry to Burn Fat Fast!