New Dietary Guidelines suggest limits on sugar, saturated fat, sodium, but experts criticize omissions

The U.S. government’s new Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limits on added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats; drop a previous limit on total fats, emphasizing healthy fats instead; and urge overall healthy eating patterns rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. But the new guidelines also have some troubling omissions, according to nutrition experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who were quoted in various media outlets after the new guidelines were released on January 7, 2016.

The experts also weighed in with an overview and critique of the new guidelines in an article on Harvard Chan School’s Nutrition Source.

Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School, told NBC News that he was disappointed that the new guidelines strayed from some key recommendations made last year by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), such as advice to cut back on red meat and sugary beverages.

“Unfortunately, the USDA has censored the recommendation of the Scientific Advisory Committee to consume less red meat,” Willett said in a January 7, 2016 article. “In fact, the dietary guidelines promote consumption of red meat as long as it is lean, which is not what the science supports. There is strong evidence that red meat consumption increases risk of diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, and some cancers (especially processed meat), and there is not good evidence that this is simply due to the fat content.”

In a Time magazine article, Willett noted, “This is a loss for the American public and a win for big beef and big soda. The problem isn’t just that the public gets misleading, censored information, but that these guidelines get translated into national food programs, such as the menus for our kids in schools, diets for pregnant women, and programs for low-income Americans. This then gets directly translated into unnecessary premature deaths, diabetes, and suffering…of course this goes on to mean greater health care costs for all. It is all connected.”

Willett was also quoted in a January 8, 2016 Time article about the influence of the food industry in shaping the guidelines.“The current system opens the guidelines up to lobbying and manipulation of data,” Willett said. In the same article, Harvard Chan School’s Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology, and one of the experts who served on the DGAC, said that the meat industry has historically had “huge influence” on the USDA—which, along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, issues the dietary guidelines.

Read a Q & A with Hu: Assessing the new U.S. dietary guidelines

Meir Stampfer, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Chan School, faulted the guidelines for not including anything about food systems and environmental sustainability, which had been addressed extensively in the DGAC report. “The censoring of the environmental effects was very unfortunate but expected, due to congressional action,” he told MedPage Today. And he echoed Willett’s dismay at the lack of warnings on red meat. “Taking out advice to eat less red meat is flat out in opposition to what the committee recommended for straightforward dietary advice, based on strong science,” he said.

Read the NBC News article: Who’s Mad About The New Dietary Guidelines? Cancer Experts, for One

Read the Time magazine article: Here’s What 10 Experts Think of the Government’s New Diet Advice

Read the MedPage Today article: 2015 Diet Guide Departs From Recommendations

Learn more

The science behind the new dietary guidelines report (Harvard Chan School feature)