Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans released today

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released a few minutes ago. I will follow the ensuing discussion in this space in the coming weeks, but for now a brief comment: the Guidelines are good enough.

The first "key recommendation" paints a reasonable picture of a healthy diet: "Consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages within and among the basic food groups while choosing foods that limit the intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt, and alcohol." What does this recommendation mean in practice? The federal government advises Americans to eat fewer hamburgers, fewer Doritos, less ice cream, and less pizza, but prefers to name the nutrients contained therein rather than name the foods by brand name. So be it. There had been some talk that the Guidelines might chicken out about criticizing added sugars, but they held firm.

Later "key recommendations" encourage consumption of certain foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nonfat dairy products. It is politically easier to encourage eating more of something, and harder to encourage eating less of its competitors. Still, considering that the Guidelines explicitly advise reducing calorie intake overall, any thinking reader can get the picture. The Guidelines promote many foods, but never meat, eggs, most kinds of cheese, or sugary drinks. For government work, the Guidelines are plenty clear.

As a matter of strategy, I encourage those who think about the food economy from a public interest perspective to praise the Guidelines and then hold the powers that promote them to account. For example, now that the federal government claims all of the commodity promotion board messages as "government speech," somebody should ensure that the advertising adheres to the new Guidelines. As another example, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, immediately announced they will support the Guidelines. Great. See that they do.

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