The U.S. government released revised dietary guidelines on Thursday urging Americans to eat more vegetables and less sugar, but shied away from explicitly recommending a reduction in red meat consumption. The AP reports:
After a backlash from the meat industry and Congress, the administration ignored several suggestions from a February report by an advisory committee of doctors and nutrition experts. That panel suggested calling for an environmentally friendly diet lower in red and processed meats and de-emphasized lean meats in its list of proteins that are part of a healthy diet.
Arielle Duhaime-Ross, writing for The Verge, interviewed nutritionists and members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for their reaction to the new rules.
“There are clear benefits of replacing red meat with almost any other protein sources — but the meat lobby is very powerful in congress,” says Walter Willet, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University. “The Dietary Guidelines Committee was also quite explicit in their recommendation to limit sugar-sweetened beverages, and that’s not talked about [in the guidelines] at all.”
Willet isn’t the only one who feels let down. “As expected, due to strong lobbying by the meat industry and the resulting strong pressure that Congress put into the developers of the 2015 DGAs, the recommendation to reduce consumption of red and processed meats was not included,” says Rafael Perez-Escamilla, an epidemiologist at Yale University and a member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. “In my view, this is a major gap.”
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The new guidelines focus on cutting sugar and salt, though the revised sodium limits are not as restrictive as in years past. Eggs are also back in favor, thanks to recent research indicating dietary cholesterol plays less of a role in developing heart disease than once imagined.
For the first time ever, the guideline committee sought to include language linking healthy eating with environmental sustainability. However, this triggered a backlash from Congress and meat industry lobbyists. From the AP:
While the guidelines always have been subject to intense lobbying by food industries, this year’s version set off unprecedented political debate, fueled by Republicans’ claims the Obama administration has gone too far in telling people what to eat.
Congress got involved, encouraging the administration to drop the recommendations based on environmental impact and at one point proposing to set new standards for the science the guidelines can use. That language did not become law, however. A year-end spending bill simply said the guidelines must be “based on significant scientific agreement” and “limited in scope to nutritional and dietary information.”