Dietary Guidelines, Once Again

United States Department of Agriculture just published a new report on a dietary assessment, essentially reflecting how we followed (or didn’t) their guidelines. This document covers the time period from 1970 to 2014, which closely approximates the time from adopting low-fat dietary advice to our days. Knowing how obesity and diabetes exploded over this time, it’s interesting to see whether we followed the advice or ate our way to diabetes against it.

As you no doubt are well aware, we were told to increase consumption of the whole wheat, fruit, vegetables, to use vegetable oils instead of saturated fat, and the eat mostly lean meat. We needed to decrease full-fat dairy, eggs, and red meat. So, did we?

Here are some numbers from the report. According to it, we:

  • decreased red meat consumption by 30%
  • ate 13% fewer eggs
  • abandoned whole milk (down 79%) in favor of skim milk (up 127%), especially flavored (up 302%!)
  • used 8% less butter

What did we eat more of? Just what we were told to:

  • vegetables by 20%
  • fruit by 35%
  • poultry instead of red meat, by 114%
  • wheat flour by 21%

We replaced animal fats by vegetable oils, lowering former by 27% and adding latter by 87%. All in all, we were obedient in our quest to a better health. Result?

Rates-of-obesity-in-the-US

(Courtesy of dietdoctor.com)

Oh, and diabetes and pre-diabetes rate what, tripled over this time, with almost half of the population in that range now?

I find the remarks in the report about consuming fruits and vegetables below recommended levels disingenuous.  To quote,

Despite the estimate that Americans are consuming more fruit than they did in 1970, they still were below the recommendations in the Guidelines for fruit.

While total vegetable consumption has increased since 1970, Americans’ consumption of vegetables was below the recommendations in the Guidelines.

People eat more of them, as they are told, and get thicker and sicker. Far from blaming fruits and vegetables, but isn’t it clear that the entire premise on which these guidelines are built is flawed?

There is a lot of data to digest in this report, so head there to form your own opinion. My personal takeaway: demonizing saturated fat (red meat, butter, lard etc) and promoting high carbs and vegetable oils have been a disastrous policy, and blaming the population for being undisciplined followers is hypocritical.

There is one more conclusion that I feel is appropriate here. It’s obvious that the role of the government in determining what we eat is enormous. It’s under the guidance of McGovern’s Committee all the cogs of the low-fat machine started working in unison: families and individuals changed their eating habits in search of health, chefs changed their menus, industries bred leaner animals and created fat-free foods, media spread the message, grants went to the researchers falling in line. When it comes to science, the government is not a sophisticated mechanism guided by the best available information. It’s a blunt instrument that has very limited ability to analyze the scientific information; its decisions are influenced by lobbying efforts and by personal biases of the decision-makers and staffers. Believe it or not, it was government encouragement that pushed fast food industry to replace saturated fat (lard and beef tallow) with trans fats in their french fries – how’s that for understanding science? It was Senator McGovern’s faith in a low-fat idea and his staffer Nick Mottern’ personal anti-meat biases (both with no slightest hint of training in nutritional science) that shaped up the whole thing about 50 years ago, and their legacy is still pretty much defines the mainstream nutritional advice.

With all that in mind, it’s reasonable to ask: what is it we want from the government at this point? Is it just to change the direction, stop demonizing saturated fats and put the blame where it belongs, namely added sugars, processed foods and excessive consumption of the carbohydrates? Sure, that would be a good start. Overall, though, in my opinion, after admitting mistakes of the past, the best thing for the government would be to get out of where it doesn’t belong. This is a too complicated matter to be guided by such a non-scientific yet so powerful entity. Do we know enough about those same carbohydrates, the macronutrient ratios, grains, etc. to announce a final verdict on them? Not by a long shot. It would be in our best interest not to be given marching orders by Powers That Be while there is no clear direction. Fat chance, I know (see what I did there?). In the meanwhile, the least we can do is to educate ourselves and hopefully spread the word among those we care about.

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