Why I love the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee

For those of you who don’t know, every five years the U.S. government produces a document called the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which is created through a collaboration between the US Department of Agriculture the Department of Health and Human Services. These guidelines are the basis for nutrition recommendations made to consumers, like MyPyramid and the current MyPlate system, as well as the basis for food and nutrition policy, like what is served for lunch in public schools. The last Dietary Guidelines were published in 2010, and the 2015 batch is due to be published late this year. Though the Guidelines are actually written by members of the two aforementioned agencies, they are informed by the research of an appointed panel of scientific experts, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The Committee is supposed to do a rigorous review of the current research in nutrition and write a report on their findings. The Guidelines themselves usually closely mirror the Committee’s recommendations.

I have to say that I take issue with some of the current Dietary Guidelines, and more so with what they do not say than what they say. And this makes sense after reading Marion Nestle’s Food Politics, which has made it clear to me how industry-biased the Guidelines have typically been, namely in favor of the meat, dairy, and sugar industries. I have been concerned that this year’s Guidelines would follow the same trend, but the DGAC’s report has me singing a happier tune! Here are some of their recommendations:

  • A healthier diet is higher in plant-based foods, seafood, and low or non-fat dairy, lower in red and processed meat, and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains
  • A diet higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal based foods is more health promoting and associated with less environmental impact than the typical U.S. diet
  • Continue to replace saturated fats (from animal products) with unsaturated fats (from plants and fish)
  • Reducing intake of added sugars below 10% of caloric intake will reduce one’s risk of chronic disease
  • Make food labels easier to understand
  • Soda taxes are definitely worth trying
  • Change SNAP (food stamp) policies to promote consumption of healthier foods

YES, YES, AND EVEN MORE YES!! I’m trying not to get too excited, because the beef and sugar industries are already loading their weapons to fight back. I hope their influence on Congress doesn’t prevent these recommendations from becoming policy. But whether or not my wishes come to fruition, it is clear from these controversial and courageous recommendations that the tide is beginning to turn–public health might be starting to outweigh corporate interests a teensy little bit, and that is great cause to celebrate.


2 thoughts on “Why I love the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee

  1. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to celebrate these new guidelines. Government nutrition recommendations have long been based on shoddy science and a poor understanding of human physiology. Many people smarter than myself have written books and articles about their incompetence and a review of the relevant scientific literature would show that the advice they’re proffering is still theoretical or, in some cases, has already been proven incorrect.

    The larger issue here is that we shouldn’t be clamoring for government to intervene in our lives in the name of our health. You have another post which seems to imply that you would support legislation “outlawing” deep-fried cookies, fast food items, and other junk food. Your blind faith in the value and virtue of our federal health agencies is apparent. We don’t need a nanny government controlling the foods we eat and how much exercise we get.

    The pejorative phrase “food police,” which is used to describe nutritionists, dietitians, and bureaucrats who deal in matters dietary, might become a real thing if we fall into this naive way of thinking.


    • First of all, I agree that government nutrition recommendations have often been unreliable and not based on the best scientific evidence, and I am not saying that that problem has been entirely eradicated, merely that this DGAC report represents a significant improvement on past recommendations. I believe that this report represents the best scientific evidence more so than any past Dietary Guidelines.
      Second of all, in the post about deep-fried oreos I meant to convey that I absolutely would NOT support outlawing them. I apologize if that was unclear. However, I do believe that our current epidemic of chronic disease (not to mention climate change, animal cruelty, and worker injustice) in this country warrants government intervention if we want to remain a somewhat healthy, productive society. I do not have blind faith in the virtue of these institutions; in fact I’m highly disappointed in their lack of effectiveness in terms of our current food crisis. But I do have faith in the POTENTIAL of government agencies to help pull us out of this mess if they commit to reforming the food and healthcare systems, even if it is to the detriment of corporate stakeholders. You argue that we don’t need a nanny government controlling what we eat, but government policies that are currently in place effectively control what we eat, ensuring that we eat too many animal products, and too many highly processed foods with added fat, sugar, and salt. And though this is slowly changing, the healthcare system has far too long emphasized treatment over prevention, which is far less effective in eradicating chronic disease, not to mention exponentially more costly.

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