“So far, the dietary guidelines have made no meaningful impact on the health of Americans.”
While John McDougall had his own agenda in making that remark at the opening of the first meeting of the current Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, many would agree with the “physician and nutrition expert who teaches better health through vegetarian cuisine.” (He runs The McDougall Program and is particularly fond of starches.)
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans have been published every five years since 1980 by the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), and 2010 will see the new edition. They aim to provide authoritative advice about how good dietary habits can promote health and reduce risk for major chronic diseases, and they serve as the basis for federal food and nutrition education programs.
First published in 1980, Dietary Guidelines have been revised every five years since (federal law requires their revision at least every five years). The 1995 guide focused much attention on the Food Guide Pyramid, devised three years earlier by USDA, with its wide base putting emphasis on grain products (6-11 servings of bread, cereals, rice, pasta) and a narrow tip that suggested using fats, oils and sweets sparingly. Another ’95 star was the year-old Nutrition Facts Label, which spelled out fat, calories and other nutritional components of food and for the first time told of serving sizes.
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines repainted the pyramid with angled vertical bars instead of horizontal ones and suggested there was a need for some personalizing, hence the name MyPyramid. One of the widest bars called for lots of grains, especially whole grains. The manufacturing community responded with more whole grains, and consumers bought in. Vegetables got a wider stripe than fruits, and milk products held their own. Fats and oils got only a sliver. Maybe the biggest change was the little figure jogging up the side of the pyramid, suggesting considerably more physical activity than most Americans were getting.
What the final 2010 guidelines say is anybody’s guess right now. Sodium has taken quite a beating in the court of public opinion, and many observers expect the daily limit to be lowered, possibly to about 1,500mg from the current 2,300mg. At the June Institute of Food Technologists’ Food Expo, Eric Hentges, a member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, said solid fats, alcohol and added sugars are being scrutinized; prebiotics and probiotics are being heralded.
“Science has evolved our understanding of fats, both beneficial fatty acids and saturated and trans fats,” says Robert Earl, vice president of science policy, nutrition and health at Grocery Manufacturers Assn. “There’s been a lot of testimony [before the committee] on carbohydrates and calories, particularly in beverages.”
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has been meeting since October 2008. The fourth and fifth expected meetings were not scheduled as of our press time, but the group needs to wrap things up early next year. By spring, the committee will issue its report to the secretaries of USDA and HHS, who will publish the initial report and make it available to the public for comment. Earl warns there sometimes are things the committee recommends that are not included in the final guidelines – such was the case with increased consumption of fish in the 2005 guidelines.
Next summer, USDA and HHS will consider the committee’s scientific recommendations and public commentary in coming up with the Dietary Guidelines Policy Document. And in the fall, USDA and HHS are expected jointly to publish the final Dietary Guidelines for Americans (seventh edition).
…Which will carry us only as far as 2015, when the eighth edition is due.