Our Opportunity to Influence the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines

As most of us know, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines are revised and reissued every five years, and 2015 is the time for the next revision. This is an important document. Even though the average American may not refer to the Guidelines when planning their menu for the week or for deciding what to eat in a restaurant, the Guidelines still play a major role in what we eat. They determine, for example, what will be served to our children and grandchildren in their school lunch programs. They can help to determine what gets served to us when we go into hospitals and other institutions where we might be held captive to the foods being served. They can affect funding and subsidy decisions. And on a broad scale, many people do consider the U.S. Dietary Guidelines to be the definitive voice when it comes to nutrition.

I find that last point to be hard to understand given how the Guidelines change so often. They go from pyramids with horizontal lines to pyramids with vertical lines and then to plates. Sheesh! What's next! One time, it's eat more carbohydrates and less fat, then it's eat more fat and fewer carbohydrates. Or at least it seems that way. And when they figure out that Americans are growing obese because of earlier Guidelines, then they move in the opposite direction and do some overkill that way. At least that's my impression.

We can potentially influence those Guidelines, however. For 2015, the Advisory Committee has recently released its scientific report. That report will be used to formulate the final 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. And that will affect the diets of millions of Americans across the country. Before that happens, we have the opportunity to potentially influence those guidelines. The scientific report will be what carries the weight, however. For that reason, it's important to do what we can to influence that report.

Along those lines, the report can be found by clicking here. It's lengthy (over 500 pages), so I don't necessarily recommend printing it out. But it can be read, skimmed or reviewed online (whatever your preference). Once that's done, comments can be made by clicking here. Comments from the public will be accepted up until midnight Eastern time on April 8, 2015.

You can bet that the meat industry and the dairy industry will be placing their comments in during this public comment period as well. You can also bet that the large food companies that manufacture processed foods will also be having their say. For that reason, it's even more important that we as promoters and/or consumers of a whole food, plant-based diet also make our comments. The more the Committee hears from us, with solid factual information, the more likely it is that we can make an impact on the Guidelines.

I'm not a proponent of providing sample wording to use because I tend to think that when Committee members see comments with the same wording time after time then those comments can get discounted. So, I highly recommend that each person write their own message. Just keep in mind that it has to be under 5,000 characters, which isn't very long.

While general comments can be made, those who have the time and inclination may want to comment on specific points or lines within the report. But regardless of your method of commenting, points to cover might include the following:

  • Recognition to the Committee for their work and for their recognition of the benefits of a plant-based diet. Remember that Committee members are distinguished scientists and researchers. For our comments to be seriously considered, we should take them seriously and show our respect for them and the hard work they've done.
  • If you have credentials relative to food and nutrition, state those credentials. Let the Committee know that you have knowledge and possibly a scientific background in the areas of food, nutrition and healthy eating.
  • Mention that the recommendations about cholesterol are both confusing to the general public and they also undermine the credibility of previous Dietary Guidelines, which by doing so also undermines the credibility of the current Guidelines. Confusion will exist because people will accept the idea of eating more meat and dairy products because now suddenly they're hearing that cholesterol is okay. But that totally ignores the fact that cholesterol almost always comes packaged with other high saturated fats and animal proteins.
  • Bring up the fact that scientific evidence shows that osteoporosis is highest in countries with the highest dairy consumption. You might cite this article from the Journal of American Clinical Nutrition. The article's abstract says all that needs to be said there: "Although cow milk has been widely recommended in Western countries as necessary for growth and bone health, evidence collected during the past 20 years shows the need to rethink strategies for building and maintaining strong bones. Osteoporotic bone fracture rates are highest in countries that consume the most dairy, calcium, and animal protein. Most studies of fracture risk provide little or no evidence that milk or other dairy products benefit bone. Accumulating evidence shows that consuming milk or dairy products may contribute to the risk of prostate and ovarian cancers, autoimmune diseases, and some childhood ailments. Because milk is not necessary for humans after weaning and the nutrients it contains are readily available in foods without animal protein, saturated fat, and cholesterol, vegetarians may have healthier outcomes for chronic disease if they limit or avoid milk and other dairy products. Bones are better served by attending to calcium balance and focusing efforts on increasing fruit and vegetable intakes, limiting animal protein, exercising regularly, getting adequate sunshine or supplemental vitamin D, and getting ≈500 mg Ca/d from plant sources."
  • Finally, you might thank the Committee for recognizing the environmental impact of meat-eating. There is and will be a lot of political pressure to have that removed from consideration in the final U.S. Dietary Guidelines. By hearing from a lot of people that we are grateful for it being in there, we might possibly blunt that political pressure. Numbers count when it comes to blunting money and political pressure.
I suggest putting this on the front burner. Comments may not be due until April 8, but things like this can easily get forgotten or can succumb to what seem like higher priorities at the time. By getting it done early, you will also benefit from having the time to revise and perfect your response before submitting it. This is the time to comment. Review the report. Review my suggestions for content. Decide what you want to say. Write it. Review and revise as necessary. And submit.

We can make a difference!