The proposed USDA guidelines for 2015 are overturning some of its long-held conventions—conventions that organization has put forward as fact in the past. If the USDA had been so wrong before, how can we trust it now? The truth is… you can’t. That’s because the guidelines are created not only by scientific research, but also from input by big business.
Some of the surprising inclusions in the 2015 guidelines:
- Coffee is now OK if taken in moderation (up to 400 mg a day for adults only)
- Cholesterol is no longer a ‘nutrient of concern’
- Sugar is linked to weight gain and the guidelines recommend no more than 10% of daily caloric intake should be for sugar
- Red meat comes under the gun as the environmental impact of production is included in dietary considerations
That last point has incurred the ire of the red meat industry who has promised to lobby against the new guidelines in congress to prevent these common sense recommendations from being included in the national guidelines.
In the past, the meat industry has successfully lobbied on nutritional grounds that meat provides valuable protein to the American diet and this has led to a recommendation to consume leaner meat rather than less meat. But with the new guidelines including environmental impact as a consideration, the meat industry will have a tougher time lobbying for a change in recommendations.
Both the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association have issued statements suggesting that lean meat is a valuable part of a healthy diet and saying that environmental considerations have no place in dietary recommendations: “The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s focus on sustainability is objectionable because it is not within the committee’s expertise.”
Lobbying against food guidelines has a long history of success for big business. In 1976, the sugar industry was falling into disrepute. The ads claiming that sugar helped you lose weight were being questioned by the Federal Trade Commission and the FDA was investing whether sugar was even safe to consume. The industry had seen a 12% decline in just two years and decided to go on the offensive.
They bankrolled a campaign from all the sugar manufacturers and drink and snack producers that produced one scientific paper after another that showed that sugar was harmless. So successful was their campaign that even the Heart and Diabetes Foundations recommended sugar as a harmless part of a healthy diet for decades.
The new 2015 USDA guidelines go on to recommend a plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and this, for the first time, also takes into account the environmental impact of our food choices: ““The U.S. population should be encouraged and guided to consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and non-fat dairy products and alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains. 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.”
Before final approval, the USDA guidelines will go through a review process and it’s here that lobbyist groups will petition for their own interests. Public opinion is also taken into consideration and you can add your two cents here: http://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/
While the USDA guidelines influence the markets and institutions like schools, when making food guidelines for your family, opt for common sense choices like organic fruits and veggies, organic breads, sprouted grains and whole grains where you know you can’t go wrong. Plant-based diets are not only healthier, but they have a lower impact on the environment and help you to avoid diabetes, heart disease and obesity.