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DGAC plows ahead with dietary guidelines, despite growing concern

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While the report is not comforting for the future of animal products, there are some glimmers of hope.

Far from delaying, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) released the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Report early, all 835 pages. The 18-page Executive Summary is enough to spark considerable concern for red meat producers, even though lean meat is still on the list of permissible foods. Going into the detail in Chapter 1 contains good news, bad news and confusion.

Considering the DGAC was actually weighing whether or not red meat would be actually allowed at all in the 2015 guidelines, its inclusion in the 2020 guidelines is a victory. That might be the result of assiduous work from associations providing research data to USDA.

While the report is not comforting for the future of animal products, there are some glimmers of hope. There are also contradictory impulses in the report, as it mentions some Americans not getting enough protein and iron, for example, or vitamin B-12 or calcium. Beef is one of the best sources of protein, iron and vitamin B-12 and diary is an excellent source of calcium. Yet these are discouraged by the DGAC.

Saturated fats

The hang-up seems to be saturated fats provided by animal products, palm and coconut oil. Despite the fact that human beings have been eating meat for millennia and getting smarter and living longer, the DGAC states that there is absolutely no Daily Recommended Intake for saturated fats. Indeed, allowing less than 10% of the daily intake as saturated fats is a capitulation for the committee. 

Multiple times the report states that Americans would be better off with less red and processed meat, fewer added sugars, less sodium and alcoholic beverages in our diets. There are only three recommended diet patterns. One is a vegetarian pattern, devoted to the very small percentage of Americans following that pattern. That an entire pattern is devoted to possibly 5% of the population makes one wonder if the committee wants to encourage that pattern.

The committee seems unaware that the link between dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol has been largely discredited and likewise the connection between serum cholesterol and heart disease. But they express concern that “In adults 20 years and older, the overall prevalence of high total cholesterol is still more than 10 percent.” 

Ten percent. In other words, the DGAC would change the entire population’s diet for the 10% whose bodily feedback mechanism is faulty and overproduces a crucial bodily compound.

To further muddy waters, the committee notes that “Because dietary cholesterol is found only in animal-source foods that are typically also sources of saturated fat, the independent effects of dietary cholesterol on CVD [cardiovascular disease] are difficult to assess.”

More than 50 years of research and the committee’s own review has not resolved fault, so why is the committee recommending consumption limits?

The answer seems to be that the apparent war on saturated fats, animal products and cholesterol needs all the reasons, or alleged reasons, the committee can find.

The committee’s report doesn’t mention that diet is only a minor cholesterol source. Most of the cholesterol needed for critical body functions the body produces itself.

There is a substantial body of scientific evidence building that saturated fats are not detrimental to long-term health outcomes but are also beneficial, in particular in preventing stroke. That news has not reached the committee, but many nutritionist and health experts worldwide are aware and will keep hammering that point.

There’s more

While the DGAC keeps preaching that Americans are not eating enough fruits and vegetables, there is also evidence accumulating that there are substantial health benefits to low carbohydrate diets, something the committee has rumored to have studied on the quiet but did not include in their report.

The committee is expressing more concern about the 70% of Americans are overweight or obese. They see the overconsumption of “energy,” i.e. calories, as a problem of eating too much of the categories of “burgers and sandwiches” and “added sugars.” Carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables are not regarded as problematic.

The committee seems confused on America’s dietary trends. The report says, “The American dietary landscape has not changed appreciably over time.” Yet USDA data shows that even consumption of fruits and vegetables has declined in recent years. Red meat consumption has declined, yet total meat consumption is up because of increased poultry consumption. 

The report goes on to say Americans overconsume “total energy, saturated fat, sodium, added sugars, and for some consumers, alcoholic beverages.” Notice what company the committee lumps saturated fats with, categorizing all but energy per se and alcohol as “food components of public health concern.”

Added sugars account for 13% of the diet and include sweetened beverages, desserts and sweet snacks, coffee and tea with additions, candy and sugars and breakfast cereals and bars. The Committee recommends cutting that percentage to 6%.

The recommendations on dietary patterns managed to hammer red meat twice in one paragraph but add to the confusion by recommending lean meat and poultry. The list of dietary patterns associated with positive health outcomes includes higher intake of “lean meat and poultry” and low consumption of red and processed meats.

Negative health outcomes were characterized by higher intake of red and process meats. The same recommendations are repeated in the “Dietary Fats” section. During the meeting on the draft report, one of the committee members had to drag out of the presenter the admission that “lean meat” included red meat in many studies.

That completes the picture revealed elsewhere in the meeting, that red meat is one of those “crossover” foods that is on both sides of the dietary debate. In addition, many animal foods including eggs contain both saturated and unsaturated fats, yet the DGAC wants to lower the 10% limit on saturated fats, wants to increase unsaturated fats and says there is “no biological requirement” for saturated fats. Confused yet?

The committee report also said certain topics were very important and strongly encouraged USDA and HHS to examine them: the food environment, the overall food system or strategies to support behavior change. My loose translation: We’re producing food incorrectly; our food presentation leads to people eat the wrong things and they haven’t figured out how to get us to eat what they think we should. That would include Americans eating too many “burgers and sandwiches.”

Comments on the final report are due by Aug. 13 at this link: https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=FNS-2020-0015-0001.

Steve Dittmer is a longtime beef industry commentator and executive vice president of the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation. The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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