Best diet advice? USDA’s Guidelines for Americans

by Drs. Glenn Gaesser

& Julie M. Jones

With the new year comes a potential for a new you, but with every Google search your confusion is mounting on what diets to follow and how to lose those extra pounds.

Many websites and books are advocating for low-carbohydrate diets as the sweeping cure-all solution to obesity, but is this diet a fad or the real deal?

The release of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans later this month is anticipated by those with an interest in nutrition. The DGA has been published jointly every five years since 1980 by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture.

But not everyone agrees with the results from the committee of U.S. nutrition experts and their interpretation of the body of evidence in nutrition science that often has studies and opinions that are conflicting.

Some are now coming forward and charging that the DGA recommendations for low amounts of dietary fats and increased carbohydrates are responsible for the U.S. obesity epidemic. However, the facts tell a different story.

First, national studies of food consumption show that only 3-8 percent of Ameri?cans actually follow the DGA.

Second, if most people were eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, lean proteins and low or non-fat dairy servings?and consuming fewer solid fats and added sugars, and less sodium?as suggested by the DGA, Americans would be healthier and obesity would be less of a problem.

Although the DGA have urged Americans to cut back on solid fats for many years, we simply have not followed that advice.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Exam?ination Survey reveal that fat intake among U.S. adults has remained constant at about 80-90 grams per day since 1971.

The truth is that Ameri?cans have never gone low-fat. How can an obesity epidemic be blamed on something that never happened?

Many approaches to solving the obesity crisis have been tried. Millions of consumers have already tried a never-ending stream of diets, including the low-carb diets that first became popular in the 1960s.

But if they really worked, why wouldn?t Amer?i?cans have just stayed on them? Like all ?diets,? low-carb fails in the long term to keep weight off. Clearly, if low-carb diets were the answer to obesity, we would not have an obesity crisis. The bottom line: It?s the calories, not the carbs.

Every five years, the DGA committee reviews the latest science on nutrition and health and makes recommendations that reflect this review and best serve the needs of the United States population.

Some are now claiming that the committee has ignored the latest findings on saturated fat and its role in heart disease. In fact, it hasn?t.

The committee has recommended, based on a preponderance of evidence about which there is no disagreement in the scientific arena, that Americans adopt dietary patterns similar to the Mediterranean and DASH diets, both of which emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein sources and mono and unsaturated fats.

This is not new advice; while the messages may be worded differently, the advice on what to eat hasn?t changed substantially over the 35 years (see table) that the committee has been making recommendations.

The problem is not with the dietary guidelines. The problem is, and has been, that so few Americans seem to follow them.

Dr. Glenn Gaesser is professor of exercise science and health promotion school of nutrition and health director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center, Arizona State University, Phoenix.

Dr. Julie M. Jones, PhD, CNS, LN, is distinguished scholar and professor emerita of nutrition, Department of Exercise & Nutritional Sciences , St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minn.

This article was circulated by Kansas Wheat, the cooperative agreement between Kansas Wheat Commission and Kansas Association of Wheat Growers.