Last week, the ninth update to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) was released. The Guidelines is published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and is described on the HHS website as “the nation’s go-to source for nutrition advice.”
The latest edition of the Guidelines, claims the HHS website, reflects the current body of nutrition science, helps health professionals and policymakers guide Americans to make healthy food and beverage choices, and serves as the science-based foundation for vital nutrition policies and programs across the United States.”
However, many individuals including 56 members of Congress, numerous independent doctors and non-profit organizations think the updated Guidelines—which will not be revised again until 2025—are in fact, not rooted in science The Nutrition Coalition; are biased because of special interest, and do not adequately meet the needs of the 60% of Americans who have a diet-related chronic disease.
The Nutrition Coalition (TNC) is a non-profit organization that heavily criticized the updated Guidelines. By focusing on disease-prevention only, TNC maintains that the DGA ignores the 60% of the population now diagnosed with one or more diet-related disease, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, etc.
“The expert committee did not review any of the body of science on how to successfully treat these diseases with nutrition — not even any studies on weight loss. For the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a policy so narrowly focused on a minority of Americans makes little sense, especially since these Guidelines are applied to sick and well alike,” reads a statement by Nina Teicholz, TNC executive director.
Teicholz added, “These Guidelines can be of little-to-no use for the millions of Americans diagnosed with chronic, diet-related diseases.”
Why The Dietary Guidelines For Americans Matters
The dietary recommendations put forth by HHS and USDA and promulgated in the guidelines is arguably the most influential document that shapes what Americans eat, suggests TNC.
The majority of healthcare practitioners, health teachers and professors, the U.S. military as well as media outlets devise their curriculum, menus and editorial calendars based on the DGA. In addition, the recommendations serve as the basis for federal assistance programs. In fact, the USDA spends $100 billion every year on Nutrition Assistance Programs. These programs cover school lunches, feeding assistance for the elderly and women with infant children, food for disadvantaged communities, and more, notes the TNC.
What Does the DGA Recommend?
The 164-page new Guidelines includes the MyPlate.gov plan which calls for each plate to include:
- Whole fruits and vegetables (half the plate; vary your sources of veggies)
- One-quarter of the plate should consist of protein from varied sources
- Foods and beverages with less added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium
Problems With Federal Government Dietary Recommendations
But the recommendation that has drawn the ire of TNC the most is “make half your grains whole grains.” By implying that it’s acceptable to consume processed, refined grains, the nutrition policymakers at HHS and USDA are contributing to the diabetes, obesity and heart disease epidemic, suggests TNC.
Without doubt, minimally-processed whole grains are healthier than heavily-processed grains. However, the overconsumption of grains, even whole grains, has greatly contributed to the fact that about 74% of American adults are either overweight or obese, according to statistics provided in the new Guidelines.
Arguably, a less problematic suggestion in the view of TNC and other groups and people opposed to the updated Guidelines, is the tip to “Move to low-fat or fat-free dairy milk or yogurt.”
Saturated Fat: Friend Or Foe?
By avoiding natural, whole-fat foods, Americans are unable to feel satiated, and thus end up eating more starchy or sugary foods. The advice to eat low-fat or no-fat alternatives to yogurt, other dairy sources, and other foods, is based on faulty research studies that accused saturated fat for contributing greatly to cardiovascular disease.
But according to TNC, over the last decade, numerous studies have concluded that saturated fats have no effect on heart disease mortality. (Many health experts believe that the overconsumption of refined carbohydrates, oxidized fats from vegetable oils and trans fats are at the root cause of metabolic disorders.)
On this subject, TNC states: “A group of leading U.S. scientists, including former members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee itself (and the chair of the 2005 committee) wrote letters to the secretaries of USDA and HHS as well as members of Congress, discussing how this science evolved.”
New Federal Dietary Guidelines Dangerous For Diabetes Patients?
TNC also argues that by stating that added sugars should comprise up to 10% of the caloric intake, the new Guidelines “will do harm to someone with diabetes.”
Who Else Is Opposed To The Guidelines?
According to the TNC website, more than 56 members of Congress, hundreds of doctors and tens of thousands of individuals have claimed that “the new iteration of the guidelines continues to rely on outdated, weak science and exclude large bodies of scientific literature.”
One of the 56 congresspeople who took umbrage with HHS and USDA nutrition policy is U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD). Johnson is the Ranking Member of the House agriculture subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations. In a letter to the two agencies, Johnson expressed dismay that nutrition protocols that would benefit those with type 2 diabetes, such as low-carbohydrate diets, have been excluded from the Guidelines.
Conflicts Of Interest
Three years ago, the body that devises the Guidelines, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, received recommendations in a report put forth by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to disclose all conflicts of interest. That recommendation, says TNC, was ignored.
Consequently, conflicts of interest may be present in the recommendations of the Committee, which includes:
- Current Medical Director, Nestlé’s OPTIFAST weight-loss program (Jamy Ard)
- Former Global Director of Scientific Affairs, Merck & Co. (Steve Heymsfield)
- Former Member, Scientific Advisory Board, ConAgra (Richard Mattes)
- President, The Danone Institute (funded by Dannon, the world’s largest yogurt company) (Barbara Schneeman, Chair of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee)
- Former Advisory Board Member, Monsanto (Barbara Schneeman)
The Guidelines also provides recommendations for newborns and infants and young adults. The recommendations for the first quarter-century of life issued by in the Guidelines may also be biased. That’s because four of the six members of the “Birth-to-24″ Subcommittee had ties to the infant formula and/or baby food companies.
Over 300 health experts wrote an open letter to USDA-HHS, perhaps because of this conflict of interest.
Why The Federal Nutrition Guidelines Is Outdated
In summary, groups like TNC accuse the committee responsible for issuing the U.S. Dietary Guidelines of ignoring the latest research on weight loss, saturated fat and low-carbohydrate diets. Consequently, the nutrition policy offers unsuitable guidance for the majority of Americans who already have a chronic health condition. Based on the business affiliations of those in charge of formulating the Guidelines, the recommendations in this influential document benefit corporate interests rather than the American public’s interest.