Commentary

Now The Food Fight Begins: Dietary Panel Calls For Less Meat, Sugar, Refined Grains

Reflecting what we’ve all been reading in recent years, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that makes recommendations to two government agencies that, in turn, issue recommendations for what the nation’s consumers should buy and eat, is telling people to injest more veggies, fruits, seafood, whole grains, beans and nuts and to cut down on red and processed meat, added sugars in food and drink and refined grains. Moderate amounts of alcohol and low- and not-fat dairy products are okay for most people, the report also says. 

“These dietary patterns can be achieved in many ways and should be tailored to the individual’s biological and medical needs as well as socio-cultural preferences,” the panel says in its executive summary of a report that is more than 500 pages.

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First issued in 1980, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is reviewed, updated, and published every five years in a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Now comes the political jostling.

“The proposals will set up a fight with food lobbies worried about how their products are treated in the final guidance released this year,” point out Bloomberg’s Alan Bjerga and Doni Bloomfield, 

The report is generally receiving plaudits from nutritionists but is under fire from cattlemen for wandering into the territory of sustainability, and the rest of the food industry for wading into areas such as forthright labeling and onerous taxation.

“The meat industry believes the panel, which has been meeting for well over a year, is pursuing a broader anti-meat agenda, even though it doesn’t recommend specific daily reductions in meat or poultry consumption,” writes Tennille Tracy in the Wall Street Journal. “The trade group criticized the committee for not giving greater consideration to studies that provide evidence of the nutrient density of meat and poultry.”

"If our government believes Americans should factor sustainability into their choices, guidance should come from a panel of sustainability experts that understands the complexity of the issue," Barry Carpenter, the chief executive of The North American Meat Institute, said in a statement cited by the Washington Post’s Roberto A. Ferdman.

It also said thatmeat and poultry are among the most nutrient dense foods available,” and pointed out that “processed meat and poultry products are diverse and include low-fat, low- sodium, gluten-free, natural, organic, kosher, halal and regular formulations, along with countless flavors and styles.”

“Meat producers aren’t the only members of the food industry worried about the panel’s report,” writes Chase Purdy on Politico. “Critics complain it goes too far with too little scientific evidence. Advocates argue they’re trying to repair a nation wrought with crippling health problems.”

Purdy cites the panel’s suggestion that “food labeling be retooled with a Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods that emphasizes calories, serving sizes and including over-consumed nutrients such as sodium.” It also suggests that taxing “higher sugar-and sodium-containing foods may encourage consumers to reduce consumption and revenues generated could support health promotion efforts.” 

“The guidelines “come down pretty hard on saturated fat — recommending less than 10% of total calories from saturated fat per day — but they don’t recommend against cutting down on total fat as they have in the past,” writesTime’s Alexandra Sifferlin,  “Guidelines launched in 1980 helped boost the low-fat craze of the 2000s.” 

“Registered dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix says it makes sense to move meat from a ‘starring role’ as the main dish to side dish or ‘accent,’” writes Liz Szabo in USA Today. “It's not only healthier, but it's more economical,” says Taub-Dix. 

“People often say, 'Just tell me which foods are good and which foods are bad,” Taub-Dix, who was not one of the 15 experts on the panel, tells Szabo. “Instead of focusing on everything you should cut back on and everything you should be avoiding, it's really about replacing.”

Coffee producers and hen breeders are exultant this morning as eggs and caffeine, in moderation, are not the problem they were thought to be.

“The report says dietary cholesterol now is ‘not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.’ This follows increasing medical research showing the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream is more complicated than once thought,” according to the AP on Yahoo Health.

“The Real Bad Egg Is Sugar,” reads the hed over Anahad O’Connor’s story in the New York Times.

The panel also says there is strong evidence that the caffeine in three to five cups a day can be good for you.

We’ll slurp to that — sans sugar, of course.

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