Since the 1977 Dietary Goals for Americans, we have had U.S. dietary advice to eat less fat, less sugar, less sodium—and meanwhile we have gotten fatter. The food industry continues to do its job and respond to the latest nutrition advice to prevent chronic disease. In the 1980s, everyone was counting grams of fat and a whole industry of low- fat, tasty products was born. All the effort to create a new low-fat category of most products did not make us skinnier; in fact, it made us fatter.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans supports less consumption of sodium, solid fats, and added sugars. Make half your grains whole and half your plate fruits and vegetables. Seems simple for the food industry—keep slashing salt (but make sure my food is safe), get rid of added sugar (but add fruit and fruit extracts to everything), and make chips, pizza crust, cookies, and all other grains “whole” so they are healthy. Probably a good idea to tax soda, outlaw French fries, ban chocolate milk in schools (added sugar is bad, right?), and over-regulate school lunch, restaurants, and food manufacturers. Let’s blame the victim too—we know fat people are lazy, uneducated, and low income—too bad they live in food deserts and don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Hope my BMI is under 25 today!
Diet is a complicated issue. Obese children don’t eat more sugar and fat, but do live in low income households where food security is a problem. Studies find that regular family meals and regular exercise are associated with better health and weight status in children, not outlawing important cultural foods and traditions.
My experience on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) made me conclude that efforts to micromanage the diet by imposing strict dietary rules are difficult to support with evidence-based nutrition science. The underlying principles of good nutrition, moderation and variety, should continue to direct our nutrition policy. Concepts such as added sugars and solid fats, which are not linked to health outcomes, just add to the confusion for consumers and food manufacturers.
As Americans continue to be inactive, fewer calories are needed and those calories need to be chosen carefully. High quality protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber must be provided in food choices and these choices are particularly critical during growth and development. Food manufacturers will continue to respond to dietary guidance principles and develop good tasting low sodium, low calorie, high fiber, and whole grain products—that are clearly labeled with information on portion size and calorie content. They should not be blamed when these foods do not improve public health.
Joanne Slavin, Ph.D., R.D.
Department of Food Science and Nutrition
University of Minnesota