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What the experts say about the dietary guidelines report

Some see sound advice and applaud the suggestions for a more plant-based diet. But others say the new guidelines can be confusing or don't go far enough in combating obesity.

June 28, 2010|By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times
(L-R: Katie Falkenberg /…)

If you want to comment on the dietary guidelines report or read the comments others have submitted, you can do that here: In the meantime, here's what the experts we contacted had to say:


Director of nutrition policy

Center for Science in the Public Interest ( Washington, D.C.)

The dietary guidelines provide sound advice for the majority of Americans. Basic nutrition advice hasn't changed much over the 30 years that the dietary guidelines for Americans has been published. It has long advised people to eat less unhealthy fats, salt and added sugars and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains — and, for the most part, that advice has been ignored by individuals and institutions.

Dietary guidelines: In this article, an incorrect affiliation is listed for Alice Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Lab at Tufts University. The lab is affiliated with the university's USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, not the School of Medicine. Further, it's in Boston, not in Medford, Mass.

The new Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report, at long last, recognizes that what is most needed is an unprecedented effort to help people follow the dietary guidelines, including changes in policy and the food environment. The report wisely recommends that USDA and HHS develop a national strategy to help people eat better, including ramping up nutrition education, expanding access to fruits and vegetables, and getting industry to provide more healthful products.

The refinement of the advice to reduce unhealthy fat intake is a good step toward better health; i.e., limiting saturated fat intake to less than 7% of total calories and avoiding artificial trans fat. But I do think the advice to limit cholesterol-raising fats (saturated fats exclusive of stearate and trans fat) to less than 5% to 7% of energy is misguided. Stearate may not raise cholesterol levels, but it is still not clear whether it contributes to heart disease in other ways. The advice is too complicated, and impossible for people to follow, since stearate is not listed on food labels.


Chairman of the Department of Nutrition

Harvard School of Public Health (Boston)

Author, "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy"

Overall, the review represents progress in moving toward recommendations that are more consistent with science and that will improve the health of Americans. Positive changes include a more explicit and stronger recommendation to reduce consumption of sugary beverages, a greater emphasis on reduction of sodium and much less emphasis on the percentage of calories from fat (which is clearly not related to weight gain and obesity or any other major health outcome, as reviewed in the document).

Shortcomings of the report include:

The percentage of total fat is still recommended to be less than 35% of calories. The advisory panel apparently adopted this recommendation to stay consistent with another set of guidelines — the Institute of Medicine's Daily Recommended Intake levels. But the Institute of Medicine's recommendation is entirely related to weight control, and it's out of date. The best available evidence demonstrates that percent of calories from fat in a diet has no bearing on weight loss — a point the dietary guidelines committee acknowledges. It makes no sense to base the dietary guidelines on an outdated recommendation.

Also, the recommendation for three servings of milk per day is not justified and is likely to cause harm to some people. The primary justification is bone health and reduction of fractures. However, prospective studies and randomized trials have consistently shown no relation between milk intake and risk of fractures. On the other hand, many studies have shown a relation between high milk intake and risk of fatal or metastatic prostate cancer, and this can be explained by the fact that milk intake increases blood levels of IGF-1, a growth-promoting hormone. The justification for drinking three glasses of milk per day on the basis of increasing potassium intake is also not valid as the extra calories, even with low-fat milk, would easily counterbalance the benefit of the extra potassium. Also, the recommendation for people of all ages to drink three servings of milk per day is very radical and would double dairy production if adopted; this would have huge environmental impacts that would need to be considered.

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