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Dietary guidelines that tell us to eat less -- finally?

January 31, 2011|By Rosie Mestel, Los Angeles Times
  • U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks as Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius listens during a news conference at George Washington University to announce the release of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks as Secretary of Health and… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans may seem unremarkable -- eat more vegetables, limit saturated fat, etc. But some nutrition scientists are pleased that they seem to do one thing more forcefully than before: Tell us to eat less.

"I’m in shock," writes Marion Nestle, an author and New York University professor who has followed these proceedings and written about the politics of them for years:

"The new guidelines recognize that obesity is the number one public health nutrition problem in America and actually give good advice about what to do about it: eat less and eat better. For the first time, the guidelines make it clear that eating less is a priority."

RELATED: New dietary guidelines released amid 'crisis' of obesity and diet-related diseases

She has some "quibbles," however. Here's her first one:

"They still talk about foods (fruits, vegetables, seafood, beans, nuts) when they say 'eat more.' But they switch to nutrient euphemisms (sodium, solid fats and added sugars) when they mean 'eat less.' … There's politics for you." She also doesn't like the way the guidelines are focused at Americans instead of the food industry, which in her mind should do a lot more to clean up the "toxic" food environment.

Not everyone is as pleased as Nestle. The recommendations about salt are now more bluntly calling for people to keep their daily sodium intake at 2,300 mg or under -- or to 1,500 mg or under if they're 51 or older, African American or have hypertension or several other health conditions.

The Salt Institute, a salt industry trade association, calls this advice "drastic, simplistic, unrealistic." Its statement says that obesity, not salt intake, is a greater contributor to hypertension, that cutting salt too much is dangerous and reminds us that salt is "an essential nutrient."

Meanwhile, for all the press the guidelines get, who pays attention? Here's a telling quote in a New York Times article from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who said at the news conference Monday morning announcing the guidelines: "I must admit personally that I never read the dietary guidelines until I got this job." Yep -- he's one of us.

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