Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) get together to publish Dietary Guidelines for Americans, clear rules on what to eat to stay healthy. The last Guidelines were issued in December 2020. With the next set due in less than two years, USDA and HHS have already begun to hold meetings to decide what’s new. what’s in and what’s out.
At the same time, other interested parties are issuing their own updates. Last month the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report emphasizing their primary concern: Malnutrition. For WHO this includes “undernutrition, inadequate vitamins or minerals, overweight, obesity, and diet-related noncommunicable diseases, all of which present significant threats to human health.... especially in low- and middle-income countries.”
Both the Americans and WHO advocate a healthy diet at every stage of life, from start to finish. But WHO goes one step farther to list three problems that may interfere with doing that: personal preferences, cultural traditions, and how much cash a person has on hand to pay for food. Americans are late to the last one. Fifty-four years after Richard Nixon’s conference on hunger, nutrition, and health established food stamps plus food for hungry kids, our currently polarized government has been swinging back and forth on how to distribute food and cash to those in need
As for the particulars of a healthy diet, the Dietary Guidelines suggest that carbs account for 45-65 percent of your daily calories; WHO says 40-70 percent. Both recommend cutting added sugars back to less than 10 percent of those calories, and doing the same for the artery clogging saturated fats in animal foods such as red meat that can increase your risk of a heart attack. Perhaps surprisingly, many suggest the fats in calcium-rich bone-building dairy foods don’t seem to pose that problem.
If this dietary pattern sounds familiar, it’s because we’re all well-versed in the Mediterranean Diet, a regimen most interesting because –for at least the last 400,000 years–most of us either came from or wandered through the Mediterranean map.
The teensy little catch? The Med Diet actually lets you have up to 42 percent of your daily calories from fats. Last week the experts in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health voted for that rather than the 30 percent limit. Citing a whole bunch of studies and random trials, the Harvards agreed that really low fat diets do help people lose weight but noted that they didn’t reduce the risk of chronic conditions including the Big Three: cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In fact, they argued, cutting out fats might actually increase your carb consumption which has problems of its own.
As the experts work through their differences on the way to the next Guidelines, no need for you to sit on the sidelines. Turns out the USDA/HHS planning meetings are not just for the pros. Click on to https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/get-involved to attend virtual Committee meetings, toss in your two cents worth, and sign up for regular updates to stay informed on each step of the process.
Who knows? The next new rule they write may be your own.