Controversy Over US Dietary Guidelines

Controversy Over US Dietary GuidelinesControversy Over US Dietary Guidelines

A food fight is shaping up in Washington over what the federal government should -- and shouldn’t -- be telling Americans about their diets.

Every five years, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) updates its official dietary guidelines on healthy nutrition. A draft of the updated recommendations guidelines to be published this year has sparked controversy for clinging to dietary ideas that some experts say are not supported by recent research and may even be counterproductive.

Milk, in particular, is becoming a focus of debate.

The dietary guidelines have long recommended low-fat or non-fat milk over whole milk, which is higher in saturated fats, and the latest draft sticks with that advice.

“The US population should be encouraged and guided to consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; and moderate in low- and non-fat dairy products,” the document states. “Care should be taken to minimize the amount of calories from added sugars and high-fat dairy.”

But a growing body of scientific evidence contradicts the conventional wisdom on milk and dairy products. An analysis published in the European Journal of Nutrition found people who drink whole milk tend to weigh less and have lower rates of obesity than those who opt for low-fat or skim, CBS News reported.

“There’s a lot of emerging research right now about full-fat dairy versus low-fat or non-fat dairy,” said Despina Hyde, a registered dietician at NYU’s Langone Weight Management program.

“What we do know is that fat is not the enemy. Fat is good for us. It provides satiety, that feeling of fullness. It helps us to absorb fat-soluble vitamins. So it’s good for us for several reasons. However, the fat that’s found in dairy is saturated fat, which may not be the best. There are other, healthier fats like monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, omega 3s,” she said.

Monounsaturated fats are the type found in olive oil and nuts, polyunsaturated fats are found in many vegetable oils, while some fish are a good source of omega 3s.

“Having fat in dairy is one piece of the whole nutrition puzzle,” Hyde said.

Getting the federal dietary recommendations right is important, argues Nina Teicholz, a critic of traditional low-fat diet advice and author of “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.”

“This is the most important set of guidelines in the world and they need to be based on really solid evidence,” Teicholz said.

“Why have the dietary guidelines not successfully combated the major epidemics of our time?” she said. “The obesity epidemic began in the 1980s when the dietary guidelines started.”

Among other things, the guidelines are used to help shape school lunch programs and other federal food policies, although they are not mandates.

“It could affect what your kids are seeing on their plate in the cafeteria -- or it may not,” Hyde said.