Nutrition

Federal Dietary Policies Are an Unsteady Diet of Nothing

Follow the new guidelines at your own peril.

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Credit: USDAgov / photo on flickr

This week, ending decades of confusing and often-contradictory dietary advice, the federal government finally issued its long-awaited Dietary Guidelines.

The guidelines urge Americans to avoid "tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, or eggplants…. [because t]hey cause inflammation. What else? No coffee. No caffeine. No fungus. No dairy."

Oh, wait. Nevermind. That was Tom Brady's nutritionist, Allen Campbell, talking this week about what he cooks up for Tom, his supermodel wife, Gisele, and their family.

Instead, the new federal Dietary Guidelines, which the federal government updates every several years as "an important resource to help our Nation reach its highest standard of health," urge all Americans to adopt a healthier diet.

What does that mean, exactly? The definition of a healthy diet appears to be much like the date on which Easter falls: it's a moveable feast.

Cholesterol had long been painted as a villain in the federal guidelines. No longer. Coffee was of questionable merit. It, too, now gets the green light.

In their place, sugar and protein—the latter a surprise to many—have emerged as areas of concern.

Does this mean cholesterol and coffee are good, and that protein and sugar are bad? Maybe so. Maybe not. It depends.

Critics have long pointed out the many, many ways Dietary Guidelines have been wrong over the years. Every revision and update of those guidelines is, at least in part, an admission that some or all of the previous advice was flawed.

I have little problem, at the theoretical level, with the government proposing broad dietary advice, provided a couple things. First, the advice must be based on sound science. It's better to give millions of people no advice than to give them all bad advice. Second, the advice should recognize and embrace the fact that dietary choices are like snowflakes. No two are alike. And the guidelines should never attempt to coerce anyone to adopt a particular diet.

But these Dietary Guidelines fail on both counts.

First, there's the issue of bad science. The guidelines claim to be "informed by a critical, and transparent review of the scientific evidence on nutrition."

I spoke with two key critics of the federal government's development of dietary advice this week. I'd previously written pieces on the issue that quoted Nina Teicholz, science journalist, author of The Big Fat Surprise, and board member of The Nutrition Coalition, and Edward Archer, Ph.D., a researcher and leading author on dietary science.

"Clearly there is not 'significant scientific agreement' on several key recommendations made by the [Dietary Guidelines], so it's not clear that they meet the standard that Congress requires to appropriate funds for them," says Teicholz, in an email to me this week.

Teicholz points to the fact federal dietary recommendations for salt consumption conflict with the government's own research on salt and the "significant disagreement" over the science of saturated fat, which the federal government treats as a settled matter.

"Until our national health policy is based on solid science," Teicholz tells me, "it seems questionable that it will do a better job of fighting obesity, diabetes as well as other nutrition-related diseases."

Archer lobs a similar complaint.

"The greatest problem with the DGA is the confluence of intellectually inferior and scientifically incompetent research with the politics of self-interest enforced by the power of the Federal Government," Archer tells me, also in an email this week.

The lack of agreement about just what constitutes a "healthy diet," coupled with the legal and policy implications of that disagreement, have long made federal dietary recommendations a decidedly lousy effort.

This week, just before the Dietary Guidelines were released, both the New York Times and FiveThirtyEight, the ESPN-affiliated website headed by stats geek Nate Silver, published lengthy pieces exploring just what makes for the most effective diet.

The Times piece suggests that what's deemed healthy or unhealthy food is made up of the "best guesses" of experts, many of whom disagree with each other.

That's not necessarily because there's a right or wrong answer.

"[L]ife is complex," the article notes, "and… we are more than what we eat."

The FiveThirtyEight piece, by Brown University economist Emily Oster, concludes that no single diet appears significantly better than any other. Instead, writes Oster, "the particular diet you choose is likely less important than choosing one you can actually stick to."

I'm quoting Oster five days into a weeklong no-booze, all-liquid diet.* It's a great way to lose the pounds I gained over a holiday season spent gorging on anything and everything. It's a diet, but it's no diet I could (or should) stick to for any length of time. In that way, it very much resembles the ever-changing dietary advice served up by our federal government.

*Since you're no doubt wondering, dinner last night was homemade roast butternut squash soup made with cream, butter, chicken broth, and leftover bacon (pulverized sufficiently that I could count it as liquid). Breakfast this morning was a few gulps of plain, full-fat kefir. For lunch, I juiced a cucumber, an orange, three carrots, and a nub of ginger.

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  1. * Yes, but how much did you losegain on this diet, and how much did you gainlose over the holidays?

  2. “The greatest problem with the DGA [insert Federal agency] is the confluence of intellectually inferior and scientifically incompetent research with the politics of self-interest enforced by the power of the Federal Government,”

    1. Which is why there is a problem with the govt providing dietary advice. Why even concede that ? Even “theoretically”.
      Remember , just because you don’t want the govt doing something doesn’t mean you don’t want it done at all.

  3. mmmmmmm… liquid bacon.

  4. the federal government finally issued its long-awaited Dietary Guidelines

    The nation has been waiting with bated breath! It’s like a new Star Wars movie!

    It’s great to see that the science is settled. Again.

  5. It would be nice, just once, if the federal government would fess up and admit that they really have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about. Doubly so when it comes to something as individualized as a person’s dietary needs.

  6. my Aunty Elise just got an awesome metallic Mazda CX-7 SUV just by part time work from a compute
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  7. Unmentioned is the role food industry lobbying plays in biasing the guidelines. Perhaps that’s because, in libertopia, all of our information about what’s good to eat would come from marketing departments.

    1. New food pyramid base is Maker’s Mark, the middle side-y bits are Burger King chicken burgers and that pointy bit at the top is whatever children’s cereal can yell loud enough during Dora the explorer commercials to cut through a hangover fog!

      1. Back to a pyramid? I really thought this was going to be the year of the polyhedron. I never win the office pool.

    2. You can go online and find actual dietary/nutrition information right now, provided neither by marketing departments or government.

      Would that suddenly vanish without the FDA providing biased nutritional advice?

      And, really, are poor people really getting FDA advice?

      It’s admitting a lot to point out that social nutritional advice is really corporately biased nutritional advice.

      1. The FDA should ban all of that so we’re dependent on them. I’m sure Tony would agree.

        1. We should just have feeding stations for poor people, where they line up and get FDA-approved meals.

          After we remove the horrible taint of corporate interests from public policy.

          You know: never.

          1. It’s small-government assholes who like sticking their nose into what people do with subsidized food access.

            1. Whereas the big government types are busy strictly minding their own business.

            2. Ah Tony this is ironic considering you want single payer to hammer people’s life style choices

    3. Yeah Tony. Clearly we should nationalize our food production so none of that happens. Maybe then the government could send all the white collar corporate people out to of the farming too. Could be a part of some kind of Five Year Plan from the Lightbringer, or Cankles.

      1. Food production in this country is a quasi-nationalized enterprise anyway. It will likely always be so considering the importance of food to people, so a thoughtful society should take care to see that policy is geared to feeding people healthfully and not to increasing companies’ bottom lines.

        1. Or, stop farm subsidies.

          Food policy should be geared towards healthy eating because… food production is quasi-nationalized and always will be.

          That’s about the most convoluted, ridiculous, progressive justification for food policy I’ve ever heard, even only when compared to other progressive ones.

          Whatever happened to good food policy because poor people?

        2. So you going to tell people what they can and can’t eat?

        3. Let me get tris straight: the quasi-nationalized food production in this country is ruining our social food policy with corporate bias.

          Again, it’s admitting quite a lot.

        4. Food production in this country is a quasi-nationalized enterprise anyway.

          Bullshit.

          It will likely always be so considering the importance of food to people

          Again, bullshit. Farm subsidies are being cut back because they are unnecessary.

          so a thoughtful society should take care to see that policy is geared to feeding people healthfully and not to increasing companies’ bottom lines

          A thoughtful society leaves the choice of what people eat up to the individuals, for two simple reasons. First, when government makes such choices on behalf of people, those choices end up being determined by corporations and lobbyists. Second, because, contrary to what you irrationally believe, people actually have different preferences and even different physiologies; the government doesn’t know what is “healthful”.

          You can see both effects in action with past US government dietary recommendations, which were an excellent way of producing obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

    4. Perhaps that’s because, in libertopia, all of our information about what’s good to eat would come from marketing departments.

      Yeah, it’s a real wonder how humanity made it this far without a bureaucracy of poli sci majors telling them what they ought to eat.

    5. Unmentioned is the role food industry lobbying plays in biasing the guidelines.

      You’re right, it’s an outrage. That kind of corruption is the result of people with political views like yours.

      Perhaps that’s because, in libertopia, all of our information about what’s good to eat would come from marketing departments.

      Indeed, it would come from marketing departments instead of the government. That is a good thing.

      You seem to prefer a situation in which corporations bribe government officials to pretend that their corporate interests are neutral, scientifically based health recommendations. I.e., you favor corruption and dishonesty.

  8. It’s tempting to see these FDA nutrition guidelines (version 472) as relatively benign, but they have pretty serious ramifications. These are what school lunches are based on, for one thing. Typically, the demographic who is most affected are children from poorer families, which means that, yet again, government capriciousness winds up hurting those people least able to escape it.

    1. not just poor children but many schools are not allowing parents who do make their kids lunches to include items that they want and actually forcing them to eat the crap the school serves.

  9. Only central committee knows what’s best for you.

  10. My first job out of High School was at St Paul and over the next 5 years Iearned so very much. Seeing the hospital torn down tears a small piece of my heart out. The Daughters of Charity and the doctors and staff of St Paul Hospital will always be with me.
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  11. No one wants to hear that saturated fat and cholesterol have been linked to heart disease, or that meat consumption has been linked to cancer and obesity. No one wants to hear that dairy is the leading food allergy, or that it has puss and hormones in it, or that it has been linked to bone loss, or any other number of health related issues.

    There is only one diet where people can eat until they are full, while losing weight and curing disease at the same time. There is only one diet that has been proven to reverse atherosclerosis. There is only one diet that has been proven to aid in curing cancer. A whole food vegan diet is the only diet people should be eating. Of course, no one wants to hear it.

    People love themselves some steak and ice cream baby. Every time a study comes out saying saturated fat and cholesterol have no impact on heart disease it makes front page news and everyone cheers. Of course, no one stops to ask why those few particular studies go against the mountains of studies that say otherwise. No one dares peek under the statistical hood to look for any lurking gremlins. No no no, steak and eggs are what humans were born to eat!! Never mind that half the US is dying from heart disease and diabetes complications.

    1. Vegan diets cure disease? Citation needed. Also do you think it is a good idea to eat til your full and still lose weight which would be all the time logically?

      Do vegans not die or something?

      1. Here’s a few to get you started.

        A Low-Fat Vegan Diet Improves Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in a Randomized Clinical Trial in Individuals With Type 2 Diabetes, doi: 10.2337/dc06-0606

        Intensive Lifestyle Changes for Reversal of Coronary Heart Disease, JAMA, December 16, 1998?Vol 280, No. 23

        INTENSIVE LIFESTYLE CHANGES MAY AFFECT THE PROGRESSION OF PROSTATE CANCER, DOI: 10.1097/01.ju.0000169487.49018.73

        1. Yea there is no cure for heart disease currently. You can only manage it.

          Can you explain how a vegan diet causes all these things you claim?

          1. I just showed you a study where they reversed – REVERSED – heart disease.

            1. Did you even bother to read the study? Which part of “intensive lifestyle changes” did you not understand? That study tells you nothing about the effects of diet alone, and, in any case, the diet in that study isn’t even vegan.

            2. There is no cure for heart disease

      2. Oh, it’s worth noting that I put my mom on a whole food vegan diet with no calorie counting. She ended up losing 40 lbs, went off all her diabetes medication, all her blood pressure medication, and all of her arthritis medication. All of those issues were completely resolved within a year.

        1. Well, what was she eating before? If someone had drive-thru, junk food, soda, and alcohol for every meal, then it’s entirely plausible that she could make an improvement on the whole food vegan diet simply because she’s on a diet of some sort. Did you try a whole food diet with meat included and observe the results of that? If not, then you haven’t really proven anything about the efficacy of vegan diets. Whole food diets in general tend to be healthier, meatless or not.

          1. She was eating beef, chicken, milk, eggs, etc.. before. She still eats plenty of junk food today, except now the junk food is vegan. Even with her junk food intake, she still managed to cure herself of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and arthritis, while loosing 40 lbs in the process.

            1. How does one cure themselves of all those things especially heart disease? There is currently no cure for heart disease

              1. @Frankjasper1…you’re right, there is no magical cure/pill for “curing” heart disease. But there is ample evidence showing a whole food, plant-based diet along with regular exercise leads to the reversal of cardiovascular disease, reduction in cholesterol, body-fat, blood sugar, diabetes, etc., etc. Note, when you go to a doctor practicing Western Medicine for heart/cardiovascular disease, you are not being treated for the disease. You typically are just being treated for symptoms of the disease – stents, bi-pass, etc. Those procedures do not address the root cause which is what people are stuffing their faces with while they sit on their couch watching reality tv, sports or playing their XBOX. Whereas, a whole-food, plant-based diet and exercise attack the root causes and that is why you actually see the reversal of the symptoms and a reduction in the markers that contribute to the disease. If you took the time to do some fact-based research instead of listening to what the government, special-interests, media, and other outlets that are in it to make money, you would find that one of the most beneficial things you could do for your own health would be to eat more of a whole food plant-based diet. I still eat meat occasionally and I do love me some cheese, but all in moderation.

                1. Honestly, adopting this diet along with some regular exercise would be an amazing health policy for the western world as it would address practically all of the top 10 killers. It would also have a secondary benefit of cleaning up our environment immensely as we would see a drastic reduction in the industrial production of meat which is also one of the largest contributors to methane gas (greenhouse gas). Anyway, it’s not rocket science when you stop to think about it. You are indeed what you eat. It matters what you put in your mouth, and no pill will mask or undo it. And this is not anything new…Socrates and Plato were preaching this 1000s of years ago.

                  1. I dont really disagree but are you saying by health policy folks should be forced into this? My opinion is no. It is their own life…some folks would sacrifice years for food. Everyone else has different CTQs

                2. Where did i imply that i listen to the government, special interests and media etc? Ok i dont really disagree with you what you wrote

                  1. Sorry, didn’t meant to imply that you do…just that there’s a lot of misinformation out there b/c of special interests, and the media is just as bad at perpetuating/peddling the misinformation. Unfortunately, you have to dig for the truth. And not suggesting that people be forced to do anything. I am ALL about free choice. I am just suggesting that proper education and awareness about food and nutrition as well as promoting a more healthy diet along and the hopeful and willing adoption of it by the masses would do a heck of a lot more for health care in this country than anything else. We focus too much on symptoms and the ability to mask them through the use of pills and surgery and call that treatment or a cure instead of addressing root causes. One example I love is the prilosec commercial withe get’r done comedian that is basically saying, eat whatever you want and then you can take this pill to suppress your body’s natural adverse reaction to the crap you just ingested. Go on, ignore what your body is telling you. Lol…unreal.

    2. How about you eat your vegan diet and I’ll eat my steak and eggs? Frankly why is it any of your business?

      1. Go for it. Sounds pretty good actually. But what’s wrong with being educated or raising awareness as to the truth about the foods we eat. Who wouldn’t want to feel better, have more energy, and avoid a lot of conditions/diseases if they could simply do so by paying attention to what they eat? You don’t have to become a vegan to enjoy these benefits. Just try to increase the whole, plant-based foods and reduce the meat and dairy.

        1. There is nothing wrong with that..where did i say otherwise? the problem i have is when it comes across as talking down to others.

          1. Understand, and if I came across that way…my apologies. Note, not sure you would get much sympathy from vegetarians or vegans as they have been looked down upon and ridiculed for decades although some of them certainly do not help their cause with their own demeanor.

    3. Would you care to explain which hormones are in milk and how exactly they affect the human body?

      1. Yea does this apply to human milk too? Since it is from an animal…do vegans not let their kids suck on their nips?

      2. Cows are kept pregnant, so loads of estrogen. Dairy products account for 60 to 80 percent of the estrogen consumed in the typical American diet. While soy milk contains phytoestrogens, the latest research in 2015 has shown that soy phytoestrogens have no negative health effects and do not effect estrogen levels in humans. Dairy also contains bovine somatotrophin, and raises IGF-1 levels. Nature designed dairy to grow a 60 lbs calf into a 1,500 lbs cow in 2 years. Humans are the only animal on the planet that regularly consume the milk of another animal, as well as being the only animal to consume milk beyond the age of weening.

        1. Here’s some data showing that estrogens present in milk are not physiologically significant:
          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22192179
          http://www.sciencedirect.com/ science/article/pii/S0958694611002123
          (remove the space)

          This study states that recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) gets destroyed in the human digestive tract, and that even if it were injected directly, it would have no effect on humans:
          https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/24663163?dopt=Abstract
          (remove the space)

          “Humans are the only animal on the planet that regularly consume the milk of another animal, as well as being the only animal to consume milk beyond the age of weening.”

          What is this supposed to mean? Is it inherently bad for humans to do anything that other animals don’t do? Humans are also the only animals that do scientific research to determine what diet is best for them instead of just eating whatever their instincts prompt them to eat.

          1. The American Dairy Science Association funded that study. To quote their website, “The American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) is an international organization of educators, scientists, and industry representatives who are committed to advancing the dairy industry”

            So yeah… Believe them if it makes you feel better.

            Here’s a study from a more reputable organization.

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19496976

            1. Why are they more reputable?

              1. Ummm… because they are not paid to promote the Dairy industry?

                1. Your comment does not tell me why it is more reputable. Simply saying that a thing is more reputable cause they aren’t paid to promote the dairy industry does not tell me anything.

          2. The last study you cited on rBST was performed by ASAS scientists. To quote the ASAS website, “The American Society of Animal Science is a membership society that supports the careers of scientists and animal producers in the United States and internationally.”

            Again, all of the papers you cited were funded by dairy industry paid scientists. They have little to no scientific value.

            1. How did you determine they have little to no scientific value?

              1. If nothing else, it’s a conflict of interest. Why would they fund and publish a study that says don’t consume our product? It’s all about the money!

                1. That doesn’t mean the study is invalid. you could say this about climate scientists and global warming then using that logic…the ones who receive grants to study.

            2. I’d say screw all the studies…adopt the diet yourself and observe all the benefits…or talk to one of your friends that has adopted it.

              1. Id have to agree here. Everyone is different and the nice thing about diets is you can try things and see results relatively quickly

    4. No one wants to hear that saturated fat and cholesterol have been linked to heart disease, or that meat consumption has been linked to cancer and obesity.

      “Linked to” usually means a correlation with a small increase in risk, not a strong causal relationship.

      No one wants to hear that dairy is the leading food allergy, or that it has puss and hormones in it, or that it has been linked to bone loss, or any other number of health related issues.

      No one wants to hear that vegetables contain rat droppings, insects, salmonella, and animal carcasses either. It’s food; deal with it.

      There is only one diet that has been proven to reverse atherosclerosis. There is only one diet that has been proven to aid in curing cancer.

      As someone who is a mostly-vegan vegetarian, let me say unequivocally: that’s bullshit. Stop spreading such nonsense.

      1. Michael can you show how a vegan diet aids in curing cancer?

      2. I just wanted to say, thank you for being a vegetarian who has adopted it as a personal choice, not a religion to be proselytized like Michael’s.

    5. Where can I find the puss-laden dairy? I’m asking for a friend .

  12. Off-topic, although still related to food:

    I bought a big flat slab of steak today, and I’m looking to make either steak fajitas or steak tacos. What’s a good spice rub or marinade to use on this meat?

    1. Chipotle powder.

    2. Kirkland steak rub its good on everything

  13. Cut to the core of it. The dietary guidelines exist solely to create jobs for bureaucrats. The entire concept is a government overreach.

  14. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.
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  15. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.
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  16. My first job out of High School was at St Paul and over the next 5 years Iearned so very much. Seeing the hospital torn down tears a small piece of my heart out. The Daughters of Charity and the doctors and staff of St Paul Hospital will always be with me.
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  17. Has there been any research linking the government-sponsored low fat craze of the 1980s to obesity, and if so, what the size of the effect was? Remember, once you take all of the fat out of something, you need SOMETHING to give it flavor, so a lot of food companies removed fat and added sugar to compensate.

    Anecdotally, isn’t the 1980s when obesity really started to take off in America? Americans love to marvel at how French food for instance contains so much fat, but beyond the French having more sane ideas about portion sizes in general, they’re still latched onto the idea that eating fat makes you fat and don’t understand that fat actually both helps get and keep you feeling full. Never mind all those low fat products that were sometimes not even subtle or implicit about suggesting that it’s okay, you can go ahead and eat the whole box, since there’s no fat in the snack item.

    I know personally, if I have a full-fat cup of Fage yogurt for breakfast at 9 AM, it’s easy to make it to lunch; if I have a zero-fat Fage I’m lucky to make it to 10:30 AM before I start feeling hungry. But of course, the full-fat one is harder to find; I know my mom still won’t eat stuff like full-fat dairy products because she’s still latched onto the “eating fat makes you fat” idea. The feds really unleashed an unmitigated health disaster on the public with that one.

  18. My first job out of High School was at St Paul and over the next 5 years Iearned so very much. Seeing the hospital torn down tears a small piece of my heart out. The Daughters of Charity and the doctors and staff of St Paul Hospital will always be with me.
    ??????????? http://www.HomeSalary10.com

  19. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.

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  21. The *new* 2015-2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines are a steady diet of bullshit! (the old ones too!)

    Some of you may be interested in this recent podcast episode we published, that is quickly becoming one of our most popular episodes. It’s about those *new* guidelines.

    Here’s the link to the audio podcast episode:
    http://www.burnoffyourbeerbell…..uidelines/

  22. Diet is a night mare for me. I don’t like starving myself from the food that I like. My friends suggested that I use Venus Factor Diet Program because it allow you to lose weight without any diet at all.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHtuxlCfpk0

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