Food Lies: Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Simple should be more Complicated.

In fact, for Twenty-some years I’ve been doing my darndest to make the simplest things complicated.

I wanted to Ace a class. So I didn’t study, went to a few keggers, slept in, watched The Bachelor…then crammed, agonized, lamented the “unreasonable” professors I’d been so unfortunate as to have, turned in a mediocre midterm, and then had to beg and plead for extra work to pad my grade.

I wanted a great boyfriend. So I played dumb and wore really high heels, went out with guys who thought going to the Mall Movie Theater to see the puss-filled, bloody horror movie Hostel was a decent date night, and wondered why my choices weren’t leading me toward a man of integrity (luckily I figured this issue out and was somehow fortunate enough to trick an honest, loving, super-hot caveman into marrying me).

I wanted to be healthy. So I joined a gym, never went, made the false assumption that skinny = healthy, started a tobacco-product meal-replacement regimen, and ate 70 calorie just-add-water packets of black bean soup and Wheel Pizza at 3am. College, right? (See my Crashing: A Retrospective post.)

So I get it. Deciding you want something – then doing and saying the exact opposite of what will yield the desired results – is awesome.

Twisting logic to justify those backwards actions is even more fun.

Which is why I totally GET the 2010 report on Dietary Guidelines for Americans. What we want? A healthy populus. What should we do? Everything that will NOT yield this result.

We should make use of confusing wordplay and smoke & mirrors, then use to our advantage the fact that nobody will ever read the short-sighted, flawed “studies” used to A. prove the “guidelines” and B. defend the “guidelines.”

If you’re  a wife, you’ll really get this: No matter what you said, no matter how wrong you were, use every weapon in your arsenal, from simple words to tears and distraction techniques, to avoid EVER HAVING TO ADMIT YOU ARE WRONG.

On to the subject matter:

Since the 1977 debut of a govermentally-endorsed set of guidelines for a “healthful” diet, there have been subsequent reviews in 1980, 1985, and 1990. In 1990 the secretaries of the USDA and HHS mandated that Dietary Guidelines for Americans reports be issued every 5 years. (They must be “evidence-based,” in case you were wondering, and will be “broadly accepted.” Of course, these are words that assign false value to their recommendations.)

Basically, the DGA is asked to grade itself every five years. Oh, if only I’d been able to assign myself a grade in college. I would have been able to go to all the keggers I wanted.

The “Major Conclusions” for “dietary behaviors” (found here, page 2) are fleshed out (by me) below:

1) “Individuals are encouraged to prepare, serve, and consume smaller portions at home and choose smaller portions of food while eating foods away from home.”

Prepare, serve, AND consume smaller portions? I made the grave mistake of assuming that I only had to meet one of those criteria to be healthy. Now I understand that just because I prepare and serve modest portions of whole grains, low-fat dairy and plant proteins, if I CONSUME three times my weight in candy bars, I have not met the criteria of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

2) “Children and adults are also encouraged to eat a healthy breakfast and to choose nutrient – dense, minimally processed foods whenever they snack.”

On this one they  get a pass. As long as you don’t read the rest of the paper and what they ACTUALLY recommend one eats as part of a “healthy breakfast” or a “minimally processed food,” this is a decent recommendation. However, I take issue with the fact that they don’t mention Cavepeople, man-children, or Yankee Fans in this bracket. Even Yankee Fans deserve the dignity of being included in this fatally flawed packet of garbage.

Even this whacked-out Yankee fan deserves some decent dietary guidelines.

3) “Children and adults should limit screen time, especially television viewing and not eat food while watching television. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours per day of total media time for children and adolescents and discourages television viewing for children younger than age 2 years (AAP, 2001). A Healthy People 2010 objective is to increase the proportion of adolescents who view television 2 or fewer hours on a school day (HHS, 2000).”

Please note that this paragraph says absolutely nothing, nor does it even pretend to suggest causation.

4) “Adults are encouraged to self-monitor bodyweight, food intake, and physical activity to improve outcomes when actively losing weight or maintaining body weight following weight loss. There is also evidence that self-monitoring of body weight and physical activity also improves outcomes when actively losing weight or maintaining bodyweight following weight loss (Butryn, 2007; Wing, 2006). In order to facilitate better self-monitoring of food intake, there needs to be increased availability of nutrition information at the point of purchase.”

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans would like Americans to know that they should weigh themselves a lot and hope that one day there will be comprehensive nutrition labels on their bags of whole-grain bread and TastyKakes listing calorie content, sugar load, and %RDA of vitamins and minerals. (…Wait a minute…)

This is JUST NOT ENOUGH INFORMATION.

5. “Children and adults are encouraged to follow a frequency of eating that provides nutrient- dense foods within daily caloric requirements periodically through the day. Caution must be taken such that the frequency of eating does not lead to excess calorie intake but does meet nutrient needs.”

We should for sure eat periodically throughout the day. Not eating periodically throughout the day could result in not eating periodically throughout the day.

The recommendations contained in these conclusions are as muddled in nature as the dietary guidelines they summarize. As stated in In the Face of Contradictory Evidence: Report of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee, a response paper (full text here) by assorted non-USDA/HHS experts Adele H. Hite (M.A.D.), Richard David Feinman (Ph.D.), Gabriel E. Guzman (Ph.D.), Morton Satin (M.Sc.), Pamela Schoenfeld (R.D.), and Richard Wood (Ph.D.),  recommendations made within the DGA report (healthy diets are high in carbs, plant protein is ideal) are subsequently listed as areas in need of greater, more conclusive evidence to prove them. Then why, praytell, are they recommending them? According to Hite et. Al:

These examples illustrate the general pattern of the DGAC Report: strong recommendations are made with weak and inconclusive evidence to support them. Conclusions rest on evidence-based methodology, embodied in the creation of the Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL). In practice, the methodology and the utilization of the NEL demonstrate several critical weaknesses:

1. Research questions are formulated in a way that precludes a thorough investigation of the scientific and medical literature.

2. Answers to research questions are based on an incomplete body of relevant science; relevant science is frequently excluded due to the nature of the question.

3. Science is inaccurately represented, interpreted, and/or summarized.

4. Conclusions do not reflect the quantity and/or quality of relevant science.

5. Recommendations do not reflect the limitations, controver- sies, and uncertainties existing in the science.”

The response paper states that the great fault of the DGA reccomendations is its arbitrary exclusion of evidence” that “decreases the potential for insights into improving the health of Americans.”

The continued use of the term “moderate amount of evidence” or variations thereof in DGA is frustrating. Based on the evidence provided in the response paper (and the “moderate amount of evidence” alluded to in DGA) the assertions made based on “moderate amounts of evidence” are easily proven false; I can only assume that the use of the phrase insulates DGA from accusations of falsifying their entire report by alluding to a few dated and irrelevant studies. One only has to read the response paper, which is more direct, cites more evidence, and aims to answer the proper questions, to understand this criticism.

For example, in discussing Type-2 diabetes (here, page 5), DGA implies that low consumption of Saturated Fatty Acids may be associated with dietary patterns that may be associated with lower body weight which may be associated with lower risk of Type-2 diabetes.

Huh?

Putting aside the fact that any summary based on this report and constructed for public consumption would probably simply state that if one wants to avoid Type-2 diabetes, one should avoid saturated fat; we should look at the following response statement from Hite et. Al:

This statement shows the same disregard for physiologic mechanisms as before: all effects of saturated fat are measured in the presence of recommended (high) levels of carbohydrate intake. Because digestible dietary carbohydrate is the primary source of exogenous glucose, discounting the role of carbohydrate in the risk of T2D shows a troubling disregard for physiologic mechanisms.”

This is the fatal flaw in so much of the evidence we are given in support of government-endorsed dietary references and guidelines. How can it be concluded that the outcome (Type-2 Diabetes) is actually a result of saturated fat consumption when the recommended carbohydrate intake could just as easily be responsible?

And it is responsible.

DGA 2010 makes its way through dietary protein and fiber in similar manner – asserting certain conclusions with “moderate” supporting evidence (relevant science excluded due to the incredibly specious “nature of the question”). While they manage to state the obvious – that Americans don’t clean their refrigerators enough (Page 29) – they fail to draw any specific, well-supported conclusions that could enable the layperson to make health-inducing choices.

The concluding paragraph of the response paper by Hite, et. Al encapsulates the true problem. It begins:

We ask whether it would be preferable to convene an impartial panel of scientists consisting of biochemists, anthro- pologists, geneticists, physicists, etc., who are not directly tied to nutritional policy.”

Amen.

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