dietary guidelines 2015

One of the keys to “media literacy,” is asking: “what’s missing” from news stories and scientific reports. As I read through the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, I wondered what was included, and what wasn’t.

In case you’re not a food geek, let me fill you in: every five years the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services assign a committee of health and nutrition experts to review the latest science to update our nation’s guidelines for a healthy diet.

These recommendations are critical because they shape our national feeding programs, including school lunch. The 2015 report is remarkable because, for the first time, the committee considered both health and sustainability — taking into account the environmental impact (greenhouse gas emissions, land, water, and energy demands) of our food choices.

The committee’s report recommended a more plant-based diet; increased vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds; low- and non-fat dairy, and seafood. They also advised reducing total calories, sugars, salt, refined grains, red and processed meats; and, replacing saturated fat with unsaturated vegetable oils.

Egg lovers can rejoice because the committee found insufficient evidence linking dietary cholesterol to harmful blood cholesterol. And coffee enthusiasts will be glad to know that three to five cups of coffee per day –up to 400 mg. of caffeine — does not pose a health risk to adults, and may help prevent type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and Parkinson’s Disease.

So what’s missing? Unfortunately, the committee did not address the impact of farming methods, chemical fertilizers or pesticides on diet quality, public health or environmental risk. There is NO recommendation to choose organic food, even though we have a growing body of evidence showing benefits.  The committee also recognized the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, but failed to mention organic, pasture-based meat and whole-milk dairy as significant contributors of these health-protecting fats.

In addition, full-fat dairy products may be better than low-fat varieties for maintaining a healthy weight in adults and children.

The good news is we can send comments to the committee (through April 8th), before the final report is issued. Let’s share evidence that organic food and farming are key to promoting true health and sustainability.