Dietary Guidelines & Health
Health Concerns About Diet Guidelines 2005
In response to serious health concerns about the government-sponsored 2000 Dietary Guidelines, members of the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) built their own Healthy Eating Pyramid, which aims to provide a genuinely objective guide to a healthy diet, free of food industry pressures. While welcoming several of the new diet recommendations contained in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines - on issues like weight control, consumption of trans-fats and whole grains - the HSPH also criticises the new guidelines on several health counts.
To investigate the HSPH health concerns, we list the government diet recommendations contained in the new Dietary Guidelines, followed by HSPH's comments, followed by our opinion.
1. Carbohydrates and Health
Dietary Guidelines (2005) Advice on Eating Carbohydrates
Consume 3 or more ounce-equivalents of whole-grain products per day, with the rest of the recommended grains coming from enriched or whole-grain products. In general, at least half the grains should come from whole grains.
Consuming at least half the recommended grain servings as whole grains is important, for all ages, at each calorie level, to meet the fiber recommendation. Consuming at least 3 ounce-equivalents of whole grains per day can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, may help with weight maintenance, and may lower risk for other chronic diseases. Thus, at lower calorie levels, adults should consume more than half (specifically, at least 3 ounce-equivalents) of whole grains per day, by substituting whole grains for refined grains.
Concerns Raised By Harvard School of Public Health About Carbs
The guidelines suggest that it is fine to consume half of our grains as refined starch. That's a shame, since refined starches behave like sugar. They add empty calories, have adverse metabolic effects, and increase the risks of diabetes and heart disease.
The government's diet guidelines emphasise the link between whole grains and health, and state that "at least" half of all grains should be whole grain varieties. We do not agree with HSPH that the DGs are in effect saying "it's fine" to eat half our grains as "refined starch".
2. Protein and Health
Dietary Guidelines (2005) Advice on Eating Protein
While protein is an important macronutrient in the diet, most Americans are already currently consuming enough (AMDR = 10 to 35 percent of calories) and do not need to increase their intake. As such, protein consumption, while important for nutrient adequacy, is not a focus of this document.
When selecting and preparing meat, poultry, dry beans, and milk or milk products, make choices that are lean, low-fat, or fat-free.
Concerns Raised By Harvard School of Public Health About Protein
In terms of protein, the guidelines continue to lump together red meat, poultry, fish, and beans (including soy products). They ask us to judge these protein sources by their total fat content, "make choices that are lean, low-fat, or fat-free." This ignores the evidence that these foods have different types of fats. It also overlooks mounting evidence that replacing red meat with a combination of fish, poultry, beans, and nuts offers numerous health benefits.
Since the government's diet guidelines openly side-step the issue of protein, (the word "protein" hardly appears in the report) they cannot really be criticised for advocating any specific protein options since they make none. Furthermore, for most individuals and families, we feel it is more helpful to recommend lean protein foods (including red meat) rather than advising people to go buy fish, beans and nuts. However, we think the Dietary Guidelines should have included a specific recommendation about protein.
3. Dairy Foods and Health
Dietary Guidelines Advice (2005) on Dairy Consumption
Consume 3 cups per day of fat-free or low-fat milk or equivalent milk products.
Another source of nutrients is milk and milk products. Milk product consumption has been associated with overall diet quality and adequacy of intake of many nutrients. The intake of milk products is especially important to bone health during childhood and adolescence. Studies specifically on milk and other milk products, such as yogurt and cheese, showed a positive relationship between the intake of milk and milk products and bone mineral content or bone mineral density in one or more skeletal sites.
Adults and children should not avoid milk and milk products because of concerns that these foods lead to weight gain. There are many fat-free and low-fat choices without added sugars that are available and consistent with an overall healthy dietary plan. If a person wants to consider milk alternatives because of lactose intolerance, ...choose alternatives within the milk food group, such as yogurt or lactose-free milk, or to consume the enzyme lactase prior to the consumption of milk products. For individuals who choose to or must avoid all milk products (e.g. individuals with lactose intolerance, vegans), non-dairy calcium-containing alternatives may be selected to help meet calcium needs.
Concerns Raised By Harvard School of Public Health About Dairy Consumption
The recommendation to drink three glasses of low-fat milk or eat three servings of other dairy products per day to prevent osteoporosis is another step in the wrong direction. Of all the recommendations, this one represents the most radical change from current dietary patterns. Three glasses of low-fat milk add nearly 400 calories a day. This is a real issue for the millions of Americans who are trying to control their weight. What's more, millions of Americans are lactose intolerant, and even small amounts of milk or dairy products give them stomach aches, gas, or other problems. This recommendation ignores the lack of evidence for a link between consumption of dairy products and prevention of osteoporosis. It also ignores the possible increases in risk of ovarian cancer and prostate cancer associated with dairy products.
Since one cup of fat-free milk contains about 90 calories, by telling people they should (eg) consume three cups of milk, the government's diet guidelines are in effect recommending we consume between 17 percent of calories (on a 1600-calorie diet) or 13 percent of calories (on a 2000-calorie diet) from dairy foods. In our view this is not excessive whether or not you are trying to lose weight. Also, the Dietary Guidelines specifically address the subject of lactose intolerance. The alleged links between dairy foods and ovarian and/or prostate cancer are not, to our knowledge, established. Let's hope they never are!
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