Why you can ignore the new dietary guidelines

Published January 1, 2016

So the US has released the latest version of its dietary guidelines; it’s been in the news. Less sugar, more fruits and vegetables, more fiber, etc., etc. But there’s no point in paying attention to it, because it was written or influenced in large part by various food lobbying groups.

In other words, it ain’t science, it’s politics. So it’s not all that useful.

It works like this: a group called the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee — composed of actual nutrition and health experts — developed the guideline recommendations. Then those recommendations were open for public comment — “public” meaning you and me… and food-industry lobbyists. Finally the DGAC released its final guidelines.

But then the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) take those guidelines, pour in the politics, and release the final recommendations — the ones that make the news.

And remember, the USDA’s job is to protect our food industry. It’s not there to protect our health. (At least HHS is there for that.) And thus the final recommendations are a bit different than what the actual nutritionists and health experts recommended.

The Harvard Healthy Eating PlateUnfortunately, a lot of news outlets — heck, most of them — are lazy, and they just report the new guidelines and don’t talk about the fact that there is at least some significant, realistic controversy.

Time magazine did look into it, and the article is worth reading. It even has a separate piece where it talked to nutrition experts about the guidelines.

And Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU — i.e., an expert if there is one — weighed in in detail about the pros and cons of the new recommendations.

So what is useful when looking at diet? Two things. First, the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate. It’s an expert nutritional recommendation without the politics. Second, that original Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report — click here for the summary, or read the full, long, detailed report (PDF).

If nothing else, keep in mind that the new guidelines are heavily influenced by industry and politics, and you should take them with … well, you finish the joke.