Translating the Dietary Guidelines Report

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I've heard rumors that some members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) believe that commentators did not give a fair shake to their recently released report (see previous post ).

I complained that the DGAC report is difficult to read because its pieces are presented online in a great many individual PDF files that must be downloaded separately. Fortunately, Cornell student Daniel Green created a single Web-based file .

I have now read the report, or at least browsed through its 699 pages, and I agree that it is better than it first appeared and deserves a revisit.

Nowhere does the report explicitly say to eat less steak, hamburger, French fries, pizza, cookies, or ice cream.

As with previous dietary guidelines , both politics and science underlie this report. The science components of this report are stunning—as good as such things get—and make this document an invaluable resource.

Why did everyone, including me, miss this? Politics, of course. The politics appear unchanged from previous versions (for that, see Food Politics ).

The science in this report gives clear guidance for action. But the report obfuscates its most important messages.

The Executive Summary makes the advice seem dull. The summary is the part everyone reads first and often the only part anyone reads. Try this:

The 2010 DGAC report concludes that good health and optimal functionality across the life span are achievable goals but require a lifestyle approach including a total diet that is energy balanced and nutrient dense...SoFAS (added sugars and solid fats) contribute approximately 35 percent of calories to the American diet....Reducing the intake of SoFAS can lead to a badly needed reduction in energy intake and inclusion of more healthful foods into the total diet.

Obesity, it says, is a big problem. The food environment is a big problem. What to do about them? SoFAS.

The report introduces a new euphemism, SoFAS (Solid Fats and Added Sugars). The meaning of added sugars is obvious. But what are solid fats? For that, you must wait until page 183 (on the Daniel Green file):

Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature. Solid fats come from many animal foods and can be made from vegetable oils through hydrogenation. Some common solid fats are butter, beef tallow (tallow, suet), chicken fat, pork fat (lard), stick margarine, and shortening. Foods high in solid fats include many cheeses, creams, ice cream, well-marbled cuts of meats, regular ground beef, bacon, sausages, poultry skin, and many baked goods (such as cookies, crackers, donuts, pastries, and croissants).

Earlier (p. 24), the report listed the principal food sources of SoFAS:

Solid fats (percent of solid fat intake)
    •Grain-based desserts, including cakes, cookies, pies, doughnuts, and granola bars (10.9 percent)
    • Regular cheese (7.7 percent)
    • Sausage, franks, bacon, and ribs (7.1 percent)
    • Pizza (5.9 percent)
    • Fried white potatoes, including French fries and hash browns (5.5 percent)
    • Dairy-based desserts, such as ice cream (5.1 percent)

Added sugars (percent of added sugars intake)
    • Soda (36.6 percent)
    • Grain-based desserts (11.7 percent)
    • Fruit drinks (11.5 percent)
    • Dairy-based desserts (6.4 percent)
    • Candy (6.2 percent)

The report does not say to eat less of these foods ; it talks about nutrients . In various places in the report, the report says [with my comments in brackets]:


    • Significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats because these dietary components contribute excess calories and few, if any, nutrients. In addition, reduce sodium intake and lower intake of refined grains, especially refined grains that are coupled with added sugar, solid fat, and sodium. [Nutrients, not foods]

    • Eat less of these: calories from SoFAS, added sugars, solid fats, refined grains, sodium, saturated fat. [Ditto]

    • Significantly lower excessive calorie intake from added sugars, solid fats, and some refined grain products. [Ditto]

    • Strategies to prevent childhood obesity should include efforts to reduce surplus energy intake, especially energy from foods and beverages that provide empty calories from added sugars and solid fats. [Ditto]

    • Intake of caloric beverages, including SSB [sugar-sweetened beverages], sweetened coffee and tea, energy drinks, and other drinks high in calories and low in nutrients should be reduced in consumers needing to lower body weight. [Only overweight people need to worry about these foods?]

Only once does the report say the clear and simple: "Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages" (p. 65). Nowhere does it explicitly say to eat less steak, hamburger, French fries, pizza, cookies, or ice cream.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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