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Science used in proposed U.S. Dietary Guidelines is questioned

The U. S. Dietary Guidelines are a big deal. They are used to decide all our national programs that concern nutrition.

You and I depend on them to figure out what we should be eating to keep disease at bay and maintain — or get to — a healthy weight. Go through any grocery store and you will see shoppers carefully reading the nutrition labels on packages. We do look to them for dietary recommendations.

That’s why it’s so important to get them right. So it’s been disappointing to see that basically the new proposed guidelines say the same thing they always have. Eat your fruits and veggies; have fish, whole grains and nuts. It does suggest limiting sugars for the first time (12 teaspoons a day), but actually that’s a baby step considering  the World Health Organization calls for just six teaspoons daily. Red meat really isn’t included anymore, not even the lean variety.

A piece that was published last night (Sept. 23) in the BMJ takes great issue with what the committee tasked with updating the guidelines has decided and how it reached those conclusions. (The BMJ is the official name now of the British Medical Journal, one of the oldest medical journals.)

In the article journalist and award-winning author Nina Teicholz (“The Big Fat Surprise”) takes issue with the evidence used to support the committee’s recommendations. In the past the data used came from the USDA’s Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL), so the information would be standardized. This time, according to Teicholz’s piece, the committee failed to use NEL reviews for a whopping 70 percent of the areas covered. Instead, it used reviews done by outside professional groups, say the American Heart Association or the American College of Cardiology.

Folks, you don’t want that sort of information. Why not? For one, now all the data isn’t necessarily following the same standards. But also, outside groups with their own vested interests often fund these studies. (Remember, just recently it came to light that Coca-Cola is giving big bucks to a non-profit that is funding obesity studies and — surprise, surprise — those scientists have decided we’re fat because we don’t exercise enough, not because we eat a crummy diet in this country.) That is, as my old granny used to say, like letting the fox guard the chicken coop.

Despite the fact there has been more and more evidence that saturated fat does not harm the heart (in Teicholz’s meticulously researched book, she presents solid evidence that shows it actually is good for us), the committee seems to have ignored it all, Teicholz points out in the BMJ article.

The current guidelines have not produced a population that is healthy and at a good weight. Instead two-thirds of us are either overweight or obese. The incidence of type 2 diabetes has increased dramatically, and now is seen in children, something that was unheard of in past generations. How could the the committee ignore THAT evidence; could it really be those on the committee are so stuck on the low fat/high-carb diet that they are too stubborn to consider anything else?

And it’s not like we need to give the current low fat/high carb model more time. That is what has been recommended for 35 years! The results have left us fatter and sicker. A dramatic change is so crucial, yet as Teicholz article shows, the committee seems hellbent on maintaining the status quo.

The House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to conduct hearings on the guidelines Oct. 7. Let’s see what happens there.