I recently visited with Nina Teicholz, New York Times best-selling author of “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.” It’s an excellent book and I urge everyone to read it.
As a beef producer, I appreciate her endorsement of beef as a part of a healthy diet. More importantly, I believe her work aligns well with a growing body of evidence indicating that USDA got it wrong on saturated fat.
Every five years, USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services publish the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. From the original Food Guide Pyramid to the current MyPlate, government recommendations have pushed consumers to eat more grains, fruits and vegetables, and limit consumption of meat and dairy. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) is currently formulating its 2015 guidelines, and Teicholz warns that even more restrictions on saturated fat are likely.
“Saturated fat guidelines are limited to 10% of total daily calories, but they are looking to ratchet them back even further,” says Teicholz. “There is hardly any science to show that this recommendation is a good idea. This is based on ‘I think,’ believing that saturated fat is a dietary culprit. It’s very hard to reverse three generations of medical professionals endorsing low-fat diets.”
Meat can hardly be blamed for America’s expanding waistline. While our affinity for carb-laden, sugary foods has escalated, beef consumption has steadily declined over the years. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Americans ate on average 91.5 lbs. of beef/year in 1976; in 2013, that figure had dropped to 54 lbs. of beef.
It’s obvious that saturated fat — the fat found in animal products – is not to blame for America’s health problems. So why is the committee ignoring the science? Teicholz attributes this to bias in the committee and a mission that has crept into areas outside of the scope of dietary recommendations.
“The last 35 years of dietary guidelines have clearly not worked, but there is still a decades-long bias against saturated fat among the committee members,” Teicholz says. “Because of this fat bias, they are now exploring the environmental and ethical reasons to advise Americans against consuming saturated fat. The committee’s mission is to review nutrition, but they’ve gone beyond the mandate to add additional reasons against meat.”
A final meeting of USDA’s DGAC is set for Dec. 15, and Teicholz urges beef producers to call their congressional representatives and demand an inquiry of the committee before it’s too late.
“Soon, the committee will turn around its scientific revisory report, which will then turn into a policy document,” Teicholz says. “We shouldn’t let bad science dictate how Americans will eat. It’s bad for the health of our population.” And it's bad for the beef industry, too.
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We’ve already seen the detrimental effects of USDA’s MyPlate limiting animal fats and proteins in our nation’s school lunch program. Teicholz points out that even the USDA website shows its preference for a vegetable-based diet, with the meatless options a very prominent part of the dietary recommendations.
“The low fat diet was thought to help middle-aged men fight heart disease, but it doesn’t address the fact that kids need fats in order to absorb nutrients in vegetables properly,” she says.
Despite America’s phobia about fat, I believe we must demand that the committee abide by the science and check its bias at the door then it comes to formulating the nation’s dietary guidelines.
“The question is, can USDA turn itself around, or do we need to ask Congress to get involved?” asks Teicholz.
Editor's note: A few minor changes have been made to this column, by request of Teicholz. The updated version reflects those changes. Thanks.
Amanda Radke is a South Dakota rancher and editor of BEEF Daily blog.
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