My Problem with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines

When talking to people about eating a whole food, plant-based diet, I will invariably find that at least one person will say that they follow the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. And to many others, that sounds reasonable. In fact, when talking to a dietitian or a doctor, they will most often recommend that their patients follow the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

So, what's wrong with that?

Well, to start with, those guidelines do not come out of an agency within the government that we typically think of as an agency protecting our health. You might think that the Food and Drug Administration would be  the agency where dietary guidelines would come out of. Or if not there, how about the National Institute of Health? Both of those agencies are concerned first and foremost with human health. And they have considerable resources related to our health, from doctors and medical personnel to extensive libraries of medical journals.

But instead, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines are issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an agency that was set up originally to help farmers. And although it's stated mission now includes nutrition, that's only one element of an agency that otherwise has little experience and background in human health.

So, that's my first gripe with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. I don't believe they are issued by a health-oriented agency.

My second gripe is that they come under considerable political pressure. And given that it's farmers who are its constituency, it seems unlikely that the USDA will make recommendations that negatively affect farmers. Can anyone imagine the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommending no dairy products or no animal products when part of its job is to protect farmers like dairy farmers and ranchers or chicken farmers? So, instead, maybe the language gets watered down. Maybe instead of saying to eliminate meat, they might say to "choose leaner cuts." In other words, they appear to recognize that animal fat is not good for us, but eliminating it would put ranchers and other animal farmers out of business. So, there's never elimination of a food group. Instead, it's about making "smarter choices."

And that's how we get to philosophies like "All things in moderation" or "There are no bad foods." Unfortunately, there are bad foods and unfortunately, moderation still leads most people to what are considered western diseases.

So, politics is my second gripe with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

And finally, there's my third gripe, which is that they have a poor track record. It's now been generally acknowledged that the food pyramid may have contributed to our obesity epidemic. One reason is because it allowed people to eat copious quantities of white flour, white rice, white bread and other high glycemic but poorly nutritious foods.Why should we trust the guidelines anymore now than from what they brought us in the past. They still recommend eating so many servings of meat, fish, eggs and dairy products each day.

For me, I will stick to the whole food, plant-based diet. I believe that the preponderance of scientific evidence points in favor of that way of eating. And given the remarkable changes that I've personally seen from eating this way, I feel satisfied that it is the right diet for me. I truly believe that it is also the right diet for most people if not everyone. But in doing so, I have to admit that my plate does not look like the "My Plate" put out by the USDA.

And that's okay. If I ever decide to go into farming, I'll pay attention to the USDA. But when it comes to the foods I choose to put into my body, I prefer to listen to those who I believe are more knowledgeable about human health and nutrition. But then again, that's just me.