Imagine you ran a business, and for almost four decades followed the same plan.
In that time, one-third of your operation has done fine. But the other two-thirds? It’s not only failed to succeed, it’s gone from bad to worse. Would you stick with that plan?
Of course not. Yet that’s the situation we have right now with the report issued last week on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (The federal guidelines are recommendations on how we should eat to remain healthy, ward off disease and keep – or get to – a healthy weight.)
Yes, there’s good. The committee revising the guidelines (finally) ditched its longtime recommendation that we follow a low-fat diet and has stopped advising Americans to limit dietary cholesterol (including eggs and shellfish like shrimp). It wisely calls for capping added sugar to the equivalent of 12 teaspoons a day. (However, keep in mind that the respected World Health Organization is advising no more than what equals 6 teaspoons.)
But beyond those changes, the revised guidelines dole out too much of the same advice: eat vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fish and nuts, but stay away from red meat. These updated guidelines don’t even really include lean red meat anymore.
This despite the fact that for more than a decade there has been a growing chorus of experts saying the data on saturated fat (meat, cheese, full-fat dairy) was wrong. These guidelines should ease up on saturated fat in the same way they do cholesterol.
Following these guidelines – which Americans try so hard to do – hasn’t brought health success. We are one big nation, and not in a good way. Two-thirds of us are overweight or obese. That has resulted in serious health problems, including diabetes. Almost 10 percent of the U.S. population – 29 million people – has the disease, according to American Diabetes Association statistics. In a nation with so many diabetics, the revised guidelines should have fewer carbohydrates. But they don’t.
I’m not alone in my displeasure. The Nutrition Science Initiative issued a statement after the guideline report was released that read, in part: “Once again, the government is making sweeping recommendations using old data based on inadequate science.”
This set of guidelines is “very much the same advice we’ve been given for the last 35 years,” say Nina Teicholz. The investigative journalist is the author of the New York Times best-selling book “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.” As I often point out, Teicholz spent nine years reading thousands of nutrition studies and talking to the experts when writing her book. She discovered that much of the research on the high carbohydrate/no saturated fat diet was based on was weak and often plain wrong.
Yet, the Dietary Guidelines can’t seem to let go of it, these revisions show. “It’s such a tragic situation,” says Teicholz. “Americans are working hard to be healthy and spending a lot of money to get healthy.”
The Dietary Guidelines are important because they shape all federal feeding programs, as Teicholz points out. Your child’s school lunch reflect them. Nutrition and medical education in our country embrace the guidelines. The food industry decides how its products are formulated, based on this information.
These Dietary Guidelines don’t go far enough for too many of us. To continue to follow them is more than foolish for two-thirds of Americans; it’s downright dangerous.