Update on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The independent Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee submitted its recommendations to the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture yesterday, a critical step in the US Government’s process to update federal nutrition guidelines. This panel of 14 outside experts reviewed the state of nutrition science and the implications of eating patterns on health. (Interestingly, they did also include a chapter on physical activity in its final report.) foodpyramidcomic

Now comes the fun part – the public comment period. Any individual (even you!) can submit comments on the report for the next 45 days, until midnight E.D.T. on April 8, 2015. Just go to http://www.dietaryguidelines.gov for more information on how to do it.

But many groups aren’t waiting until then to express their support or distaste for the report. One group is the American Beverage Association, which represents the soft drink industry. In a statement, it said,

“Our industry strongly believes that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans should be based on the weight of scientific evidence while also providing real world guidance that is achievable for the majority of Americans.”

And what product do they think is unfairly targeted without the weight of scientific evidence? Soft drinks…

“When it comes to sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages, the Committee did not consider the body of science.  Numerous studies have shown that restricting one food or food group is not the best approach for achieving calorie balance or maintaining a healthy weight.”

But, let me remind you of one important issue. Let’s leave out the fact that evidence overwhelmingly supports the link between sugar-sweetened beverages and negative health. But, when the beverage industry says “body of science” it means the same science produced by researchers whom they give hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. And when research on sugar-sweetened beverages is industry-sponsored, it’s five times more likely to produce a favorable finding for industry. Of course they want it considered.

One sector that did like the report’s findings are vegans and vegetarians. The report includes a lot of language associating a vegetarian diet with a “healthy diet.” Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m 100 percent in favor of consuming vegetables (much more so than fruit). I probably eat 10 servings a day, which includes a massive salad for lunch. But, here’s my biggest issue, and an issue that gets repeated in the scientific literature over and over. Vegetarian diets are, by design, deficient in one of your body’s most essential nutrients, vitamin B12, which can only be obtained from animal protein. So, if you stick to a vegetarian diet, over time, there’s a strong chance you’ll become deficient. A 2013 review found the prevalence of B12 deficiency among various vegetarian populations as followed:

  • 62% among pregnant women
  • 25 – 86% among children
  • 21-41% among adolescents
  • 11-90% among the elderly.

Why does vitamin b12 matter? Among a number of other things, b12 supports optimal brain function and red blood cell production. So, I’m sure it’s no shock that b12 deficiency is associated with anemia and declines in mood and mental health, including memory loss, according to the Mayo Clinic.

This is the tip of the iceburg with some of the issues that will feature in the public debate on the guidelines over the next several weeks. Stay tuned for more.


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