Dateline: January 31, 2011: The 2010 “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” have just been published. I have read the Executive Summary and listened to the press conference at the release. My blood is boiling. Where do I begin?
This year’s “Guidelines” are cleverly crafted by public health wordsmiths skilled in euphemism: “At a time of rising concern about the health of the American population…,” it begins, “poor diet” and “physical inactivity” are “associated with major causes of morbidity and mortality” in the US. True enough. They continue: “15 percent of American households have been unable to acquire adequate food to meet their needs.” Then, “This dietary guidance can help them maximize the nutritional content of their meals.” Plus, “Many other Americans consume less than optimal intake of certain nutrients even though they have adequate resources for a healthy diet.”
In other words, public health officials have discovered that there are many people on limited incomes (and others with “adequate resources”) who make poor food choices, and the government wants to help. Sounds like Reagan’s quip: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
So, the guidelines start with several iterations of the obvious, universally-held truth (NOT) about the “Energy Balance Equation: Energy In = Energy Out,” Scroll down to Retrospective #6 for my take on that bogus construction. Then the “Guidelines” summarize the “key recommendations” this way: “Americans currently consume too much sodium and too many calories from solid fats, added sugars, and refined grains. These replace nutrient-dense foods and make it difficult for people to achieve recommended nutrient intake while controlling calorie and sodium intake. A healthy eating pattern limits intake of sodium, solid fats, added sugars and refined grains and emphasizes nutrient-dense foods and beverages – vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds.”
A little later we are told where to find a meal plan with such a dietary: “Two eating patterns that embody the Dietary Guidelines are the USDA Food Patterns and their vegetarian adaptations and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan. Could they be more explicit? Your choice: 1) Mostly plant-based or 2) All plants.
There are seven “foods and food components to reduce” and nine “foods and nutrients to increase.” We’re told to reduce our sodium intake, consume less dietary cholesterol, keep trans fat from synthetic sources as low as possible, limit saturated fat by replacing it with mono and polyunsaturated fats, and limit refined grains, “especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars and sodium” and limit alcohol consumption.
Notice that by association, they link “trans fats and …other solid fats,” and then link “solid fats and added sugars” as things to be reduced or avoided together. In recommending the substitution of mono and polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats, they are stepping into a trap of their own making they will rue and wish they had avoided in the years to come. I will address this soon. And note also, if it wasn’t already clear: “solid fats” is a new term in the “Guidelines” and a euphemism for saturated fats, which in our dietary is almost entirely animal fats, the only exceptions being the tropical oils (coconut and palm), which are not common in most people’s daily “food pattern.”
Of the food and nutrients to increase, recommended are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, plus some vitamins and minerals as supplements, but, five of the nine increase recommendations were ways to avoid saturated or “solid” fats, including eating “beans and peas, soy products, unsalted nuts and seeds” and “fortified soy beverages.”
The Dietary Guidelines of 2010 have got to be the nadir of the 40-year history of government intervention in the dietary advice for Americans. As we opined in Retrospective #13, the Guidelines of 2015 saw some improvements. Now, as the committee who will produce the 2020 Guidelines has just been announced, there is reason for concern that the pendulum will swing back. Nina Teicholz and Sarah Hallberg, MD, of the Nutrition Coalition are working to see that that does not happen. Public comment will be solicited at some point. There will be a chance to be heard.