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article imageOp-Ed: Dietary guidelines — The only winners are the food industry

By Karen Graham     Jan 8, 2016 in Health
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the much-awaited dietary guidelines on Thursday, and as usual, politics has played a huge role in the what foods we are encouraged to eat.
Every five years the government comes out with a new set of dietary guidelines used in nutrition education programs, and in menu-planning in government institutions, including schools, military facilities, prisons and federal cafeterias.
Before the final adoption of the dietary guidelines, they were open to public scrutiny, receiving over 29,000 public comments, and over 700 health care professionals and hundreds of mayors expressing support for dietary recommendations that called for eating less meat, eggs and sugar, while increasing our intake of vegetables.
Some of the comments centered around the need to reduce our sugar intake, including a reduction in the number of sugary drinks being consumed daily. Other comments centered on the numerous studies showing the need to reduce meats and eggs in American's diets.
Politico points out that despite all the interest in better dietary guidelines that would tell the public why we need to eat more vegetables, and that too much sugar, meat, and eggs in our diets are bad for our health, the guidelines committee again folded to political interests and the meat and egg industry.
Yes, the guidelines do note that reduced intake of meats is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, and the dietary guidelines say, "Some individuals, especially teen boys, and adult men, also need to reduce overall intake of protein foods by decreasing intakes of meats, poultry, and eggs and increasing amounts of vegetables or other under consumed food groups."
Anyone taking the time to search through the seemingly endless graphs contained in the guidelines, will eventually find the recommendations, but like the recommendation to consume less sugar, it is well hidden. Readers will also notice that the recommendations are watered-down and usually start with the sentence, "Average intake of total" fill in the blank "foods is close to recommendations."
It appears the guidelines committee was attempting to please the health care community and advocates of a healthier diet, while bowing to the food industry lobby, all at the same time. The thing is, we can't have it both ways, no matter who gets hurt. And with a multi-billion industry at stake, it is obvious who the winner is, and it's not the consumer.
According to EcoWatch, Kari Hamerschlag, the senior program manager with Friends of the Earth, has accused the federal government of putting the financial interests of the food industry over the health of the American people.
Hamerschlag added, “It’s astonishing that the new dietary guidelines, which are supposed to help clarify what people should eat, are actually obscuring science-based recommendations that Americans should significantly cut their red meat intake."
One physician's group is going all the way and is filing suit against the USDA and the HHS. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is charging the egg industry with influencing the USDA's advice that eating eggs is OK, as long as it is done moderately. Consumer Affairs also says that four of the 14 outside experts that made recommendations to the USDA came from institutions who received generous contributions from the egg industry.
There are a few people that think the new dietary guidelines are spot-on perfect. Consumer Affairs cites Michael F. Jacobson, president of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, who says “The advice presented in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is sound, sensible, and science-based. If Americans ate according to that advice, it would be a huge win for the public’s health."
Putting the blame for American's poor eating habits, or more properly, dietary indiscretions, on the food industry's influence may be all well and good, at least as a headline, but the actual culprit may be a surprise to most people. Why not blame poor dietary habits on the people doing the eating?
Yes, I think the dietary guidelines are somewhat ambiguous, and way too wordy for the average consumer to understand, but even if the recommendations were put into simple, straight-forward language, such as "Cut your meat intake to no more that one serving three times a week," or eat three servings of green vegetables every day," it still comes down to the consumer.
Individuals need to take responsibility for their own actions instead of depending on the government or anyone else telling us what to do or what to eat. We are not children, folks, and the bottom line is simple. If a person wants to avoid becoming obese, get type-2 diabetes, heart disease or any other illnesses related to poor dietary choices, then it is up to the individual to make the right food choices.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about new dietary guidelines, meat and egg lobby, good advice buried, Food industry, vegetable consumption
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