Lobbyists for the US meat and soda industries are rallying the troops after a government committee on healthy eating has recommended that Americans consume less red meat and sugary drinks, and more fruit and vegetables. The 571-page report published by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) was dismissed as "flawed" and "nonsensical" by representatives of the meat industry. Soda makers joined in the criticism, saying the panel of experts had gone "beyond its scope" and that high intensity sweeteners criticized by the panel "can be an effective tool in weight loss."
Although the report has no legal powers, it's very likely that the government will implement its advice. This will inform new public health campaigns and set federal policy for things like school lunches, which is a program worth $16 billion annually. The report also recommends for the first time ever that Americans consider the sustainability of their food. As with the advice for healthy eating, this means simply eating less meat and more vegetables and plants.
The advice is straightforward and familiar
Even those of us that love a burger and Coke will recognize the DGAC's advice is hardly radical. "A healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts," says the report, "[It's] moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meats; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains." Surprisingly, however, the report did repeal decades-old advice that individuals limit their intake of cholesterol, noting that there was no clear link between foods high in the nutrient (e.g. eggs and seafood) and health problems.
coffee, thankfully, gets a thumbs-up
Thankfully, for the caffeine-addicted among us, the report gives the thumbs-up to moderate coffee consumption, noting that drinking three to five cups of coffee a day "is not associated with increased long-term health risks." However, the panel added that Americans tended to underestimate their coffee consumption and that three to five cups a day was equal to only two or three servings from Starbucks.
They also highlighted the dangers of energy drinks with high caffeine content, saying that children and adolescents should drink them sparingly, or better still, not at all. Adults should also avoid consuming energy drinks and alcohol together — whether "mixed together or consumed at the same sitting." This means popular drinks like Red Bull and vodka should be off the cards for those trying to stay healthy. The panel also mooted the idea of a tax on sugary drinks and foods.
As well as recommending that Americans consider the sustainability of their diet, the report highlights the meat industry as a particular environmental concern. "Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use and energy use," said the report. "This is because the current U.S. population intake of animal-based foods is higher and plant-based foods are lower."
Beef uses 28 times more land than pork or poultry
The meat industry described the panel's "foray into the murky waters of sustainability" as "well beyond its scope and expertise," and pointed out that although the carbon footprint of meat was higher than plants, the two do not deliver an equal amount of nutrients. This is true, of course, but the ratio of environmental impact to nutritional output is not something that can be easily measured. Even among livestock there is much variation. Beef, for example, needs 28 times more land and 11 times more irrigation water than pork and poultry.
Although the government is free to ignore the DGAC's advice, the chances are it won't, said former member Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University. Nestle describes the 2015 report as a "dramatic departure" for the panel, which has previously recommended eating meat as a way to reduce saturated fat intake. "The one thing the Dietary Guidelines have never been allowed to do is say clearly and explicitly to eat less of anything," Nestle told Politico. "This committee is not burying anything, or obfuscating ...They’re just telling it like it is."