Getting Beyond Jargon: A Close Look at the New Dietary Guidelines

More
Nestle_MoreGuidelines_2-1_post.jpg

A Gude/flickr


I have now had time to look at the full report of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines—all 95 pages of what they are calling "the policy document."

Oh no! What happened to the Selected Messages for Consumers (PDF) that I posted yesterday? "Enjoy your food" is not in it and neither are any of the other clear, straightforward messages. This is a big disappointment.

Nevertheless, the document is well worth reading.

It addresses my complaints about the executive summary. It explains the meaning of the annoying SOFAS (solid fats and added sugars). It discusses the need to improve the food environment.

Let me share a few thoughts about selected issues.

SOFAS

The report translates its advice on pages 62 to 68. It translates "Cut back on foods and drinks with added sugars," a nutrition euphemism, as:

Drink few or no regular sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and fruit drinks. Eat less cake, cookies, ice cream, other desserts, and candy. If you do have these foods and drinks, have a small portion.

But it translates "Cut back on solid fats" in yet another euphemism: "Select lean meats and poultry, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products." This, no doubt, is to avoid the politically impossible "eat less meat."

Added sugars

The report lists synonyms for added sugars that you might find on a food label (page 75). The 2005 Dietary Guidelines included "fruit juice concentrates" on that list. The 2010 guidelines do not. The Table lists "nectars" but not fruit juice concentrates. How come? It doesn't say.

Food group patterns

The report describes healthy patterns for diets ranging from 1,000 to 3,200 calories a day. For a diet containing 2,000 calories, you are only allowed 258 calories a day from SOFAS. That's all? One 20-ounce soft drink contains more than that and so does one tablespoon of butter and a 12-ounce soft drink. No wonder the guidelines don't want to be specific about foods when they mean "eat less."

Sodium

The recommendation to reduce sodium intake to 2,300 or 1,500 mg per day is addressed to the wrong people. Individuals cannot do this on their own since most salt is already added in restaurant and processed foods. The report recognizes this:

    • Consume more fresh foods and fewer processed foods that are high in sodium.

    • Eat more home-prepared foods, where you have more control....

    • When eating in restaurants, ask that salt not be added....

Vegetarian and vegan diets

The report includes diet plans for lacto-ovo vegetarians and vegans (pages 81 and 82). Applause, please. When I was on the dietary guidelines advisory committee in 1995, we tried to say something useful about vegetarian diets but were forced to add something about the nutritional hazards of such diets, minimal as they are. Not having to do this is a big improvement. But you too only get 258 calories for SOFAS.

How about changing the food environment?

The report makes it clear that the food environment strongly influences the food choices of individuals, and it urges efforts to

    • Improve access to healthy foods

    • Empower people with improved nutrition literacy, gardening and cooking skills

    • Develop policies to prevent and reduce obesity

    • And for kids, fix school meals, encourage physical activity, and reduce screen time

In short, there is plenty to work with here. You just have to look hard and dig deep to find it.

What is the food industry's reaction?

Just for fun, I've been tracking some of the industry reactions. The soy people love it. The report mentions soy along with nuts and seeds in the USDA's meal patterns (page 79), and soy has its own category in the vegetarian and vegan diets (page 81 and 82).

The meat people don't love it so much. They are a little worried that seafood is pushed more than meat, but the American Meat Institute is giving it a nice spin, pointing out that the overall meat recommendation has not changed since 2005.

And the Salt Institute? "Dietary Guidelines on Salt Drastic, Simplistic, Unrealistic."

I rest my case.


This post also appears on foodpolitics.com.

Jump to comments
Presented by

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.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Death of Film: After Hollywood Goes Digital, What Happens to Movies?

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Health

From This Author

Just In