Experts: New dietary guidelines not specific enough
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were unveiled earlier today, are moving in the right direction, note two prominent nutrition professors, but still do not clearly state which foods people should avoid.
Tom Vilsack and Kathleen Sebelius, secretaries for the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services respectively, released the new guidelines at George Washington University's Jack Morton Auditorium, where the Cabinet members emphasized the need for Americans to drop some pounds for the good of the country. A sick and overweight nation, after all, can't prosper as it should, they noted.
To help Americans, the guidelines recommend that people consume less than 10 percent of daily calories from saturated fats and less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol a day; reduce the calories from "solid fats" and "added sugars"; and limit the consumption of foods that contain "refined grains."
Walter Willett, chair for the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said the new guidelines take "some steps forward" by encouraging a better balance of calories consumed vs. calories spent. But he said their language remains unnecessarily "abstract and less clear." Americans need to hear specific foods to avoid, not just confusing categories such as "solid fats" and "refined grains."
Americans, Willett suggests, need to eat less white bread, white rice, fruit drinks, red meat, cheese and, especially, sodas, which the professor calls the No. 1 source for added sugars in the American diet. "That's what they should be saying: 'Eat less of these things,' " he says.
Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, agreed with Willett's assessment. "They never want to tell anybody to eat less of anything," she says.
Nestle says government agencies continue to tell Americans which nutrients to avoid, not actual items, a policy that dates to at least the 1970s when the meat industry convinced policymakers to tell Americans to eat fewer saturated fats -- not porterhouse steaks and other red meats. The language in the "saturated fatty acids" section of the new guidelines backs up Nestle's complaint:
Consuming less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids and replacing them with monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fatty acids is associated with low blood cholesterol levels, and therefore a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Lowering the percentage of calories from dietary saturated fatty acids even more, to 7 percent of calories, can further reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fatty acids contribute an average of 11 percent of calories to the diet, which is higher than recommended.
If you ask these professors why the government continues to talk in nutrients at a time when overweight Americans need specific guidance about the foods they eat, Willett and Nestle will tell you it's just politics. The meat, dairy and sugar industries carry a lot of weight in this country.
"They are very, very powerful," says Willett.
| January 31, 2011; 7:30 PM ET
Categories: Food Politics | Tags: Tim Carman
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