Hot Off the Grill
Remember the Food Guide Pyramid of yesteryear, and the more recent My Plate? Well, you can pretty much put them out of mind for good. 2015 ushered in a new revision of the USHHS and USDA Guidelines that scuttles much of what you have been taught about dietary recommendations for Americans. The publication barely made it under the wire, its final version made public in December, 2015. The guidelines are revised every five years, so the eighth edition will be with us until 2020.
History of the Guidelines
The U.S. government has been revising “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” since 1980 as a joint venture between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The intent is to provide an authoritative reference on proper nutrition, aimed at improving health and reducing the risk of disease. Since their inception, the “Guidelines” have evolved to reflect contemporary thinking about what constitutes good nutrition. However, special interest lobbies have had a profound influence on the final outcomes.
The Advisory Panel
“Dietary Guidelines for Americans” is written by an advisory panel of scientists and medical professionals who practice well outside the Washington D.C. beltway. The most recent panel went to great lengths to explore the dietary habits of most Americans, along with physical activity and other lifestyle factors. For the first time, the panel also made recommendations about sustainable practices in food consumption and production.
Two of the biggest changes to the “Guidelines” are a reduction in sugar to less than 10 percent of calories, and a green light for cholesterol-containing foods like eggs and shellfish. Reduced consumption of red and processed meats is advised. An increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, legumes and nuts is recommended. Even coffee gets a nod of approval, as mounting evidence shows moderate consumption to have a positive influence on Type II diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.
Fact vs Fiction
The original draft of the advisory panel was submitted to the USHHS and the USDA in January, 2015. A year later, the adopted guidelines emerged with many modifications to the original version. As with everything in Washington, lobbyists have a strong influence on what the government ultimately gives its seal of approval. The soft drink lobby in particular applied pressure to keep sugar recommendations above levels suggested by the American Heart Association. Likewise, the meat lobby intervened to ensure that meat and animal byproducts were not demonized by the report. Language on environmental sustainability was taken out to appease the agriculture lobby.
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References and Credits
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: History of Dietary Guidelines for Americans
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
U.S. News and World Report: What the New Dietary Guidelines Mean for You
The Verge: New US Food Guidelines Show the Power of Lobbying, Not Science
*images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net