Dietary guidelines Committee develops new recommendationsWritten by Natasha Wheeler
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) report was made available to the public on Feb. 19, opening up the public comment period until April 8.
“Positive changes in individual diet and physical activity behaviors, and in the environmental contexts and systems that affect them, could substantially improve health outcomes,” states the report’s executive summary.
On Feb. 20, a media teleconference was held, with comments from six previous DGAC members, including Cheryl Achterberg, Roger Clemens, Joanne Lupton, Theresa Nicklas, Linda Van Horn and Connie Weaver.
“In the new guidelines, there was emphasis on food and full diets, versus only a nutrient or food group approach, but with that approach there are both gains and losses,” commented Achterberg.
She expressed appreciation for how the report considered combinations of foods and how they interact with each other.
Weaver stated in agreement, “I appreciated the context of looking at the diet as a whole instead of overemphasizing a single nutrient approach.”
Achterberg also noted that there are many different kinds of diets that can be healthy for the American public.
“I am pleased that they introduced new issues like aspartame, caffeine, dementia and food insecurity and that they did more work with added sugar,” she added.
The science, she then countered, isn’t perfect.
“We have lost a great deal of evidence, literature and background in more specific advice,” she said.
Achterberg questioned the validity of the conclusions brought forward by the report and stated, “It was not clear that all of these recommendations are science- or evidence-based, which raises the whole issue of how an evidence-based review was done.”
Questioning the relevance to how Americans actually eat, she acknowledged the opportunity for new and exciting research for nutritious diets.
Lupton echoed concern about the research, referencing the report’s indicated health benefits from a diet high in fiber.
“People who eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains may be a proxy for a health conscious person. If someone is eating a lot of whole grains in one day, he or she may also be someone who exercises more or goes to the doctor more,” she explained.
Lupton’s other concern was the emphasis of public policy in the 2015 report.
“In 2005, we were told very clearly to limit what we did and to stick to the science. When it comes to the government, after the report was in, they would deal with public policy,” she noted.
Policy recommendations within the report included required labeling for added sugars and taxes imposed on sweetened beverages.
“I am very interested to see how the government is going to deal with these types of recommendations,” she said.
Concerns raised by Nicklas illustrated inconsistency across the collected data used for conclusions in the 2015 report.
“The criteria used in these studies may have been very different and not consistent across studies,” she commented.
The executive summary of the report stated, “There was variability across the food groupings, and this was particularly apparent in the meat group. For example, ‘total meat’ may have been defined as ‘meat, sausage, fish and eggs,’ ‘red meat, processed meat and poultry’ or various other combinations of meat.”
Nicklas addressed the disparity of meat definitions in the report and stated, “The recommendation to lower intake of red meat and processed meats is a convoluted recommendation, and the broad category of red meat includes both fatty red beef and lean beef, which haven’t been separated out for this particular recommendation.”
The executive summary of the report identified a higher intake of red and processed meats to be more detrimental as compared with lower intake.
Potatoes were also specifically mentioned in the summary, as some studies considered them to be vegetables while others did not. Also, potato preparation, such as baked or fried, was not clearly defined across the data.
“A healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes and nuts; moderate in alcohol among adults; lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains,” the summary announced.
An important footnote referenced the red and processed meat.
“As lean meats were not consistently defined or handled similarly between studies, they were not identified as a common characteristic across the reviews,” it clarified. “However, as demonstrated in the food pattern modeling of the Healthy U.S.-style and Healthy Mediterranean-style patterns, lean meats can be a part of a healthy dietary pattern.”
The Healthy U.S.-style and Healthy Mediterranean-style patterns were two out of the three patterns modeled in the report, in addition to the Healthy Vegetarian Pattern.
Van Horn recognized further confusion, addressing consumer understanding of how different nutrients are defined.
“I can tell by the media calls that I have had already that there will certainly be continuing concern, and a little confusion perhaps, among the public in regards to some of the previously considered settled science such as dietary cholesterol,” she stated.
Clemens also noted, “The cholesterol and saturated fatty acid stories remain confusing, and that confusion in the general public will be a challenge.”
Further issues addressed by the panelists included how sodium levels were approached, the gap between food patterns that were and were not addressed, and the addition of sustainability as a component in conclusions drawn for healthy Americans.
“I think work ahead will be in helping to further explain how to translate all of these recommendations into a user friendly, day-to-day eating pattern that the public can truly embrace,” commented Van Horn.