Every five years the U.S. Department of Agriculture issues new dietary guidelines that are supposed to tell Americans how to eat healthy and which foods are going to keep them strong and, well, alive. You know the routine: whole grains, fish, vegetables, some meat (but not too much), some eggs (but not too much), a sprinkling of nuts and just chill on the salt and sugar, okay?
"I won’t mince words: In my opinion, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are a national embarrassment," Yale University nutritionist and True Health Initiative founder David L. Katz wrote on his LinkedIn page. "They are a betrayal of the diligent work of nutrition scientists, and a willful sacrifice of public health on the altar of profit for well-organized special interests. This is a sad day for nutrition policy in America. It is a sad day for public health. It is a day of shame."
Katz said the scientific report on which the Guidelines were "allegedly" based was full of "outstanding" information, including a push for more sustainability in food production and a shift to an emphasis on plant-based foods, which are both healthier for our bodies and the environment. Instead, he said the Guidelines subtly recommend a moderate consumption of beef, eggs, diary and other meats, many of which have high levels of harmful cholesterol and saturated fats, which the Guidelines are intended to limit.
While praising the Guideline's support for limiting saturated fat and sugar intake, he blasted the "vague" language about "nutrient dense foods," which he said were a "disgraceful replacement of specific" guidance in the scientific report.
"It might mean broccoli, it might mean Total Cereal," he wrote. "I guess it might even mean pepperoni. We can’t tell, and that is clearly by design." His real problem is the repeated advice to keep consuming "all food groups," a phrase he said is a clear capitulation to "special interest" groups. "There is a disgraceful backtracking on clear recommendations to eat less meat and more plants."
The Guidelines -- which drew a wide variety of comment, criticism and faint praise from nutritionists and physicians -- are a playbook of sorts for nutrition and food programs run by the Health and Human Services and Agricultures departments and are used by schools, community groups, the food industry and state and local governments.
The five specific recommendations in the Guidelines include:
Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. Eating patterns are the combination of foods and drinks that a person eats over time.
Focus on variety, nutrient-dense foods, and amount. (Among them fat-free or low-fat dairy -- milk, yogurt, cheese and soy beverages -- as well as seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs and nuts.)
Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake. (Cutting way back on added sugars to no more than 10% of daily calories; 12 teaspoons of sugar day, or two less than in a can of Coke.)
Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. (That includes whole fruits, a variety of vegetables, beans and whole grains.)
Support healthy eating patterns for all.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a spokesperson for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association "praised the guidelines for including lean meat as a healthful and nutritious form of protein" while the American Beverage Association took issue with an assertion by Harvard nutritionist Walter Willet about the new standards for the food that is fed to children at schools, elderly Americans in institutions and pregnant women in federal nutrition programs.
"These guidelines are translated into the diets of millions of Americans every day and will lead to the failure to restrict red and processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages that cause premature death, heart attacks, diabetes, blindness, and the list goes on," Willet said. The Beverage Assoc. said it "fully" supports efforts to help Americans "achieve and maintain a healthy weight" through its Balanced Calories Initiative to reduce beverage calories in the U.S. diet.
Asked to respond to some of the criticisms about the Guidelines from Katz and others, a spokesperson for the Assistant Secretary of Health pointed MTV News to a press release about... the scientific process behind the document.