A committee of top health, medical and nutrition experts gathered Jan. 23-24 in Houston, Texas, to develop the scientific basis for the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), which establishes nutrition recommendations for everything ranging from prisons to hospitals to a doctor's advice.
This is the fourth of five public meetings the committee is holding to discuss progress in its reviews of the science, and it was the second and final opportunity for stakeholders -- from concerned citizens to health care providers to industry representatives -- to deliver in-person comments to the committee.
Cary Frye, senior vice president for regulatory affairs with the International Dairy Foods Assn. in Washington, D.C., gave oral testimony on the important role dairy can play in a healthy diet.
Frye said the committee as well as American consumers have been disappointingly subjected to misleading claims about dairy products. “These false claims have confused and scared the public for years using weak studies based on questionable scientific methods and preyed on the media’s preference for controversy,” she said.
Since the last DGA update, three things have occurred that should cement dairy’s place within the guidelines. “First, a panel of health experts from organizations including the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Assn. recommended children under five consume just two beverages: cow’s milk and water. Second, dietary advice in other countries have recommended full-fat dairy products as part of dietary patterns. Third, several meta-analyses indicate there is no negative effect on heart health from consuming dairy, no matter whether those dairy products were full fat or low fat,” she testified.
Frye suggested that dairy should continue to be a separate food group in the 2020-25 DGA and said the guidelines must preserve the recommended three servings of dairy per day in dietary patterns to ensure that Americans meet their recommended intakes of essential nutrients. Also, the committee should embrace the evidence showing that dairy foods at all fat levels are part of a nutritious diet, she added.
Dr. Molly McAdams, a Texas beef rancher who testified on behalf of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (NCBA), noted that more than 20 gold standard studies have shown that beef contributes favorably to heart health and other positive health outcomes. She stated that “today, the amount of beef we eat is consistent with what science shows to support healthy diets ... and is within current DGA recommendations. We don’t need to cut back on beef intake to eat a healthier diet; rather, we should eat more nutrient-rich foods and less empty calories.
“Research now shows that plant-based diets aren’t a silver bullet, either. In addition, many Americans benefit from a low-carb and higher-protein diet with meat. DGA should encourage this choice,” McAdams added.
Nina Teicholz, executive director of the not-for-profit Nutrition Coalition, claims that, according to a report by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine, the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not adhere to a state-of-the art scientific methodology in developing its guidelines. After the 2015 dietary guidelines came out, she advocated for the guidelines to be reliable and based on the best and most current science.
“There are a lot of agendas at work here, and with the players in this field, it’s hard to make good science rise to the top,” Teicholz said, adding that financial conflicts of interest are pervasive among the expert committee disclosures, which USDA refuses to publicly disclose. For instance, a very powerful animal rights movement has promoted a vegetarian diet that has nothing to do with health but, rather, animal rights.
She said the Nutrition Coalition’s goal is to try to get USDA to base its nutritional guidance on a more rigorous scientific process and to increase transparency. She also said it is important to establish a range of options within the dietary guidelines. “The guidelines offer a one-size-fits all approach, which is so disheartening, because it is clearly not working,” Teicholz said.
Since 1970, Americans have followed the U.S. dietary guidelines, which includes a 28% drop in consumption of red meat and a 79% drop in consumption of whole milk. The availability of fresh vegetables is up 20% and fresh fruits up 35%. Plant-based food intake has risen 35% from 1970 to 2014, while animal-based food consumption is down 6%, according to data from USDA's Economic Research Service.
Danielle Beck, NCBA director of government affairs, said the National Academy of Sciences report found that bias is hard to prevent in establishing the dietary guidelines, but USDA and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services are working to prevent as much bias as feasible.
As long as the DGA committee "sticks to the science, science will speak for itself,” Beck stated, adding that NCBA has been very comfortable with working with the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.