The New Dietary Guidelines

Every 5 years since 1980, two departments, HHS (Health and Human Services) and USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) publish the Dietary Guidelines for Americans - the Nation’s go-to source for nutrition advice. The latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines are supposed to reflect the current body of nutrition science, help health professionals and policymakers guide Americans to make healthy food and beverage choices, and serve as the science-based foundation for vital nutrition policies and programs across the United States. It’s a big deal. 

​You can read more details on the history of the Guidelines in previous posts here and here.

These Dietary Guidelines are used by professional associations such as the American Medical Association and the American Diabetes Association. They are used to determine what foods to feed our children (National School Lunch Program), what military rations consist of, and what foods are available on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Special Nutritional Program for Women, Infants and Children). Feeding programs for the elderly are also based on the Dietary Guidelines. So even though most Americans may know very little about the actual Guidelines, they are used to sculpt advice from medical professionals and even what foods are available to anyone that is fed by a government program.

The Guidelines also direct FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulations on food, including the information required on packaging. For example, the Guidelines inform health claims (whether a food can be advertised as “healthy”) and the information listed on the back of the package (the “Nutrition Facts” panel).

The Guidelines were last updated and released in 2015. So, guess what that means? They are due to be updated again this year.

The Dietary Guidelines are updated by a group of people know as the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC).

Several weeks ago, a non-profit, non-partisan educational organization called The Nutrition Coalition raised some serious concerns about the DGAC. The Nutrition Coalition was founded in 2015 with the primary goal of ensuring that U.S. nutrition policy is based on rigorous scientific evidence. For several reasons, they are questioning the integrity and trustworthiness of the current Committee.

The allegations range from deleting scientific reviews without public notice to failing to adopt reforms mandated by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). The NASEM identified numerous ways that the DGAC needs to be reformed in order to ensure a scientifically rigorous process and, in their words, for this policy to be “trustworthy”.

  • One or more of the member(s) from inside the DGAC has come forward with allegations reflecting a process that continues to be flawed. These concerns include.
  • Lack of time to finish the scientific reviews
  • Reviews deleted or added by DGAC without required public notice
  • Lack of consistent standards across DGAC Subcommittees
  • Lack of time for USDA to adopt reforms mandated by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM)
  • Inconsistent evaluation of scientific evidence
  • Exclusion of major bodies of evidence, including almost all the studies on weight loss and virtually all studies on low-carbohydrate diets
  • Restricted communication among members of the DGAC

“With 60 percent of Americans diagnosed with one or more chronic illness, the guidelines have self-evidently been unable to flatten the curve on the rates of these diet-related diseases. Given that data across countries show that people with these diseases affected by Covid-19 have higher rates of hospitalizations and critical care, the need for nutrition policy that is effective and trustworthy is all the more important. This means the member(s) who are blowing the whistle and exposing potentially serious flaws should be taken all the more seriously by USDA-HHS. The federal government cannot ignore these allegations and should delay publication of the DGAC expert report to address and potentially remediate them,” stated Nina Teicholz, Executive Director of the Nutrition Coalition.

The Nutrition Coalition are not the only ones that think the DGAC is rushing into these revised Guidelines. U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson, Ranking Member of the House Agriculture subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations stated, in a letter,  “…after repeated failures of the DGA to prevent, much  less reverse, the worsening diet-related health of Americans, it is time for the DGAC to stop digging the hole it’s standing in.”

The Nutrition Coalition wrote a letter to the HHS and USDA detailing these concerns. I read the letter and there are a few of these issues that are of great concern to me.

  • The committee excluded scientific studies that were going to require more in-depth review. So basically, if the study was too complicated or looked at more than one variable, they tossed it out because there was “not enough time” to do a thorough review of the results.
  • They are often relying on previous DGA reviews (from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines) as the foundation of their current work. In effect, they “inherit” a review, along with its potential biases, from a previous DGAC. In my opinion, they should start from scratch and review new evidence. America continues to get sicker and gain more weight. They have had five years to do research. Why rely on Guidelines that are clearly not working?
  • Many substantive concerns were raised regarding the 2015 DGAC report and the process used to develop the 2015-2020 Guidelines. In response, Congress mandated the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to review the DGA process, resulting in two reports in 2017, at a cost to taxpayers of approximately one million dollars. In 2019, the DGAC stated that it would not be able to adopt quite a few of the NASEM recommendations due to “time and resource constraints”. So sounds like $1M was wasted and the process that was deemed flawed by Congress was used once again this time around.
  • It was reported by one or more members of the DGAC that they were instructed to limit and reduce the number of studies to be examined by the DGAC. I found a document that shows 2652 articles and studies that were excluded.
  • There is no mechanism for dissent among DGAC members or further conversations to harmonize standards where inconsistencies exist. Conversations in full committee on these inconsistencies have been very brief and are often left unresolved.
  • The 2020 DGAC has chosen to exclude virtually all the science on weight loss, at a time when a large majority of Americans are suffering from overweight or obesity, conditions that are closely tied to the development of other diet-related diseases such as hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

The conclusion and summary from The Nutrition Coalition is that these issues pose a serious threat to the integrity and trustworthiness of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines (DGA). Ensuring that all the best and most current science is properly reviewed for the purposes of establishing the 2020 DGA is fundamental, and any action to rely upon unreliable reviews or exclude scientific evidence must be considered flawed.

The DGAC submitted a scientific advisory report to USDA and the Health and Human Services Department just days ago. The next step will be the USDA and HHS posting the final report online July 15th for public review and then public oral comments will be allowed on August 11th with the goal of releasing the new guidelines by the end of 2020.

The Nutrition Coalition and other groups, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), Food 4 Health Alliance and the Low-Carb Action Network are all asking that the deadline for the 2020 DGA be postponed so that the DGAC can implement its reviews fully and systematically, according to the standards recommended by the NASEM. They also point out that there are seven medical doctors who are members of the DGAC and whose attention may have been focused on addressing the COVID-19 crisis in recent months.

I was able to track down a sneak peak at some of the recommended changes to the DGA and I did find that they are reducing the recommended added sugars from 10% of your daily energy (calories) down to 6%. So that is a step in the right direction. They also appear to be reducing the recommended limit on alcohol consumption for men from 2 drinks a day to 1 a day. It was already at 1 per day for women. They also found zero health benefits to drinking any type of alcohol (including wine).

The Guidelines will recognize the direct link between what you eat and your overall health and wellness. There still seems to be a disconnect between the two for a lot of people, so the more this message is relayed, the better. For the first time ever, they are addressing infants and children under age two in the guidelines. They are also promoting extended breast feeding for infants, which is a good change.

However, they are still recommending people stay away from fats and salt and will recommend people consume 3 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy per day.

The Committee recognizes that the diets for adults will fail to meet nutrient goals for choline, iron, Vitamin D and Vitamin E. Animal source foods are very important sources of these key shortfall nutrients, not just iron and zinc, but choline and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. However, animal foods will be eliminated in the Guidelines due to caps on saturated fats, making nutritionally adequate diets impossible.

The Committee also fails to recognize diverse ethnic/racial needs. Most of the studies included in the report are based on white, middle-class Americans.

Grains will also still be a huge part of the recommended diet. There are many reasons why they are always there and unfortunately will likely never leave or even be reduced. Wheat Subsidies in the United States totaled $47.8 billion from 1995-2019…so you do the math.

Keep an eye out for updates as the final report is released next month. I will be able to get more details then.

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Wishing you optimal health and peak performance,


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