Why the 2015 Dietary Guidelines are a Problem and Likely to Stay That Way

modern-farmer-logoBy Dan Nosowitz, Modern Farmer

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, or DGAs, seem at first glance to be incredibly boring and middle-of-the-road. They do not recommend a vegetarian diet or a wild reduction in calories, nor do they go full-on paleo. The don’t really seem much different from the past few decades of recommendations, besides decreasing the amount of sugar Americans should be eating.

Crafted by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, the DGAs are redone every five years and are a vital tool for figuring out the health of the nation. They are, of course, viewable to everyone; if you want to read the whole thing, you can check it out here. But it’s really very long, and we wouldn’t blame you for not wanting to do that. Basically the new guidelines are a small evolution of the past few, recommending fewer calories, consuming more non-meat protein sources (especially fish), and, notably, to cut sugar down quite a bit. The DGAs now recommend that only 10 percent of each person’s daily calories come from sugar, which, as NPR notes in a nice summary, is almost half of the current average.

Nina Teicholz is a journalist and the author of The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, as well as a board member of the Nutrition Coalition, an organization recently launched because, according to their site, “a thorough and transparent process for developing new guidelines is needed to ensure that dietary advice to Americans is based on rigorous science.” Teicholz is not so much on the side of the pro-meat, pro-fat paleo types; she repeatedly stated in our phone conversation that she is on the side of “good science,” nothing more or less. She also is on the side of complexity; universal rules that hold true for everyone seem to chafe her quite a bit. One of those simple rules that she fights against is that fat, specifically saturated fat, is always bad. Another is that salt is always bad; Teicholz points to a recent study that finds that there is a window of ideal salt intake, and that having either too much (duh) or too little (huh!) salt is associated with health problems.

“I think that the guidelines should reflect the uncertainty of the science,” says Teicholz. “Maybe they should inform and be more humble in what they advise. They’re really quite certain about what they think is a healthy diet for everyone, and on several important, key issues, the science is really not as settled as the guidelines portray.”

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