Welp, the United States government has just put out its semi-decennial dietary recommendations, and the nutrition world is still abuzz with chatter about the far-reaching, progressive, and definitive guidelines that will help the nation curb its horrible obesity and chronic disease epidemics over the next five years.
Jk jk jk lolz, the government barely says anything that anyone with a third-grade education doesn't already know, and makes absolutely no meaningful attempt to stop special interests from continuing to sicken the population. Whoops!
It's not so much that the dietary guidelines -- which will dictate policy until 2020 -- are bad as much as they're... lame and obvious, and will likely do little to bring about the drastic change necessary to improve general health. But let's take a deeper look at how unhelpful they are, because as Americans we enjoy mocking the government.
Food: it's good (or bad) for your health!
Nutrition and health are closely related: this is literally the title of the introduction's first section. OK. Thanks.
In fairness, this part is where the guidelines are at their best, since they acknowledge that even as lifespan has increased and nutrient deficiencies have largely become a thing of the past, chronic diseases related to nutrition -- think diabetes, obesity, and atherosclerosis -- have risen sharply. More than two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. Yes, nutrition and health are related! Closely, even!
People can't survive on nutrients alone
Uh, tell that to the makers of Soylent, USDA. Guess coding efficiently wasn't a factor in the guidelines, which is a Big Miss for the government. This is why there's no #innovation at the national level. Silicon Valley should be running the country.
One notable aspect of the guidelines is the acknowledgment that attempting to modulate diet by making nutrient-specific recommendations doesn't really give people a good sense of what eating healthy actually looks like. For this reason, the authors say they're focused on an "eating pattern," and if they'd followed through on that promise, this report could've gone somewhere!
Eat less protein, men (and boys)
Hmmm, sounds a lot like focusing on a specific nutrient. The US Department of Agriculture can't tell people to "eat less meat," because guys wearing 10gal hats would descend on Washington and shoot their Winchester rifles at the Capitol until a retraction was issued. And by "guys wearing 10gal hats," I mean, "guys wearing three-piece suits."
The USDA is heavily influenced by meat-industry lobbyists, in case you didn't get it.
Again, we should give the government a little credit here; under the section that says there should be a variety of protein sources, the guidelines say reducing meat is an option. "Eat less meat" just can't be in bold font, apparently.
Eat less saturated fat
Eat lots of fruits and veggies
Hey thanks, mom! Now where's my $5 double-bacon cheeseburger made of Grade F beef?
Don't eat so much sodium
Wait, what about that whole "it's not about the nutrients" thing? Oh, right. This is another euphemism. Because processed foods are often full of added sodium. Even though salt, on its own, maybe isn't so bad.
Stop eating so much freaking sugar
Cooooooookies for breakfast? Actually, it turns out that starting your day with a bowl of sugar isn't great for your health. Amazing!
What's more amazing is that this is the first time (2015!) that limiting sugar to less than 10% of daily calorie consumption has even been a part of the report. God forbid the government step in and impose something like, say, a soda tax, which actually might work. The market can decide who gets fat and who doesn't -- it's the Invisible Gut.
Cholesterol isn't bad, but don't eat cholesterol
This is a fun one. After acknowledging that dietary cholesterol doesn't raise blood cholesterol levels, the guidelines still say you should probably limit dietary cholesterol. Uhhhhhh... guess this is another one of those "we really mean 'don't eat hot dogs,' but can't say it because of Big Wiener interests" situations.
Shift to healthier food and beverage choices? YOU DON'T SAY!
Why is this point number four in the second section of chapter two?! YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO TELL US HOW TO DO THIS. Tautological arguments are fun and all, but how did this get included?
"What should we tell the people about eating healthier?"
"Eh, I don't know, maybe tell them to make healthier food and beverage choices?"
"Great, it's in the report!"
So why don't they just say what they mean?
Why are the 2015 Dietary Guidelines so full of vagaries, euphemisms, and information you could infer through common sense? Politics! Which itself is a euphemism for money.
Consider who's making the recommendations: it's a jointly issued report from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture. Yeah, AGRICULTURE. The same USDA that subsidizes things like the beef, pork, and lamb industries. And if there's one thing the United States of America hates, it's criticizing business, or restricting the free flow of money.
That's why the dietary guidelines will never say things like, "don't eat so much fast food; eat less meat; eat fewer candy bars and other packaged, processed goods; don't drink soda." That's probably what you should do -- but you also probably knew that already.
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Anthony Schneck is the health editor at Thrillist and eats plenty of vegetables, MOM, stop! Follow him: @AnthonySchneck.