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USDA Makes Dramatic Change to Dietary Guidelines

By Matt Brignall
February 1, 2011
File under: Diet, Food Allergies, Health Concerns, Natural Alternatives, Natural Health, Nutrition


Well, this is unexpected. The USDA today issued their 2010(?!?) Dietary Guidelines for Americans update. For the first time, this report tells Americans to eat fewer calories.

The new guidelines also specifically target added salt and sugar, dietary cholesterol, and what they refer to as solid fats. In addition, the guidelines suggest reducing land animal foods in favor of seafood.

To anybody who has followed the politics of the Food Pyramid over the past three decades, this is a welcome surprise, as it represents complete reversal from previous versions. Even notoriously difficult-to-please watchdogs like the Center for Science in the Public Interest are pleased by the announcement. The focus in the guideline document on eating fewer refined foods is sure to appeal to green living advocates, as well.

A stated goal of the guideline updates is to address the rising rate of obesity by encouraging people to eat less calories. Less calorie intake in the population, of course, means less profit up and down the food preparation industry. The inevitable backlash already appears to have begun.

The last time that the USDA tried to insert “eat less of…” language into their official statement, the controversy was so great that the released guidelines eliminated the language entirely. Probably at least in part due to the political fall-out from this initial debacle, it has been an entire generation since anybody tried to officially tell Americans to eat less. During this period, rates of obesity absolutely exploded in the United States.

These guidelines are still not perfect. Like Marion Nestle, I’d like to see a little bit more guidance on finding the salt / sugar / solid fats in foods. I’d also have preferred to see a cap of percent of calories from refined sugars separate from added fats (maybe 5%, which would be about 25 grams of sugar/day in a 2000 calorie diet). Maybe next time, we’ll see some of these critiques addressed.

Still, as somebody who has tried to teach whole foods nutrition to patients and medical students for the past decade, this is about the best update I could have hoped for. Kudos to the USDA (and the Department of Health and Human Services, who co-authored the document) for making a bold step toward reversing our obesity epidemic.

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