The latest revision of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released Thursday, but even before the release there was a lot of concern that the recommendations would continue what has been a decades-long demonization of animal foods, a war in fat — which, to put it bluntly, would perpetuate the nation’s decades-long obesity crisis.
Now, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is composed of distinguished, learned scientists, researchers and dietary experts. How is it, then, that most observers expect the new guidelines to consist of business as usual, when the results of its focus on avoiding fat has turned us into the fattest nation on Earth?
At this point in time, there is a veritable mountain of solid, scientific evidence showing that low-fat/high-carb diets, the focus of the Dietary Guidelines for more than 35 years, are demonstrably unhealthy. Did the experts entrusted with evaluating the research on human nutrition soft pedal, or even ignore the hard evidence?
Let’s let other experts answer that question. (The comments below, from published editorials and commentaries in newspapers and medical journals, were compiled by Audrey B. Young, senior strategic communications advisor for the law firm of Holland & Knight in Washington, D.C.).
› Cheryl Achterberg, Ph.D., The Ohio State University Dean of the College of Education and Human Ecology and a prominent a human nutrition researcher: “I can speak from experience when I say that the process used to develop the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommendations does not assure that the best science is used.”
› David A. McCarron, M.D., a Visiting Professor with the Department of Nutrition, University of California-Davis, and director of Shaping America’s Youth, a group: “With the release of the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines, it seems reasonable to consider — with the ‘obesity plague’ upon us and Americans arguably less healthy than ever before — whether the guidelines are to be trusted, and even whether they have done more harm than good.”
› Paul R. Marantz, M.D., Associate Dean for Clinical Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City: “These Guidelines might have had a negative effect on health — including our current obesity crisis. [The] possibility that these guidelines might actually be endangering health is at the core of our concern about the way the guidelines are currently developed and issued.”
› Nina Teicholz, a journalist with a Master’s degree from Oxford University and best-selling author of “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Health Diet:” “The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee did not follow any systematic methodology for reviewing the scientific literature, [did] not review the preponderance of the evidence, nor the best and most current science on . . . saturated fats and low-carbohydrate diets. The public has largely followed the Dietary Guidelines for the past 35 years, while at the same time suffering increased rates of diabetes and obesity. This observation does not imply that the Guidelines have caused ill-health, but it almost certainly implies that they have failed to prevent it.”
The real truth revealed
The overriding question, then, is why? Why has a panel of otherwise reputable scientists seemingly failed to rigorously review the research and even worse, failed to account for the disastrous results of 30-plus years of telling Americans to avoid eating fat?
For the answer to that, we turn to Sarah Hallberg, D.O, Medical Director and Founder of the Indiana University-Arnett Health Medical Weight Loss Program. Dr. Hallberg is a certified Obesity Medicine Physician, and she has extensive experience in helping obese patients return to normal weight and improved health.
Hallberg publicly stated that it was “laudable” that the Guidelines proposed a cap on sugar consumption, but said in a statement said that, “This measure alone is unlikely to be sufficient in the fight against obesity.”
In an exclusive interview, Dr. Hallberg was asked why the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee took such a timid approach to such a monumental problem. Her answer, I would suggest, revealed the reason behind the committee’s intransigence.
“Even though [the committee] has experts and scientists, for them to reverse their previous advice [about avoiding fat], they would have to admit they were wrong,” she said. “It is very difficult for anyone in those positions to back down.”
And that, friends, is the explanation why after decades of advice that has created a tidal wave of obesity-related health problems, including diabetes and heart disease, that the so-called leadership of the nutritional science community cannot seem to change directions.
What dietary advice would Dr. Hallberg recommend, indeed, what does she recommends in her daily practice running an obesity medical clinic?
“We have to take a hard look at refined carbohydrates,” she said. “That is the heart of the problem. Even when people are told to eat meat or dairy, it’s always lean dairy, lean meat. Why? We don’t need to get the fat out of everything we eat.”
Hallberg said she works with her patients to explain human physiology — in some depth — showing why a diet high in carbs and low in fat is unhealthy.
“When people understand how the body works, then they’re willing to change their diet,” she said. “In my clinic, people eat when they’re hungry. They don’t count calories. And they get dramatic results.”
If only the Dietary Guidelines took that same approach, the results would be even more dramatic.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator