I know that I’ve finally become an adult when I find myself sitting at home reading article after article about the USDA’s plan to update the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs). I waited anxiously as the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) decided on its official recommendations. So anxious, in fact, that last week I had a dream about the DGAs. Even in my sleep I worry about the health of our nation. You may think it’s no big deal, people eat what they want no matter what the government says. But these guidelines are the basis for all federal programs, including school lunches and WIC. That feeds A LOT of people, and what they eat matters. Additionally, the USDA guidelines are what we, as dietitians, are taught to follow under the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It’s the comparative standard against which we should measure success. So, while Joe Schmoe may eat hamburgers with no regard to his health, cholesterol or environmental sustainability, there are a lot of people and facets of our country that will be affected by these updated guidelines.
To get the scoop in a simple and clear way, read Neal Barnard’s blog post from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. To sum it up nicely, he produced this lovely info graphic.
The guidelines are updated every five years, BUT THIS TIME IT'S DIFFERENT! We're seeing slightly less influence from the food industry and more of a focus on what matters. The guidelines recommend eating more plant foods and less meat not only for individual health but also for environmental health. We've got an epidemic of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and obesity plaguing our country. We've got droughts in California threatening our food supply due to climate change, with animal agriculture leading the way for greenhouse gas emissions. We've got a problem. These guidelines are a major first step towards a solution.
But here’s the thing. These are just recommendations made by the Advisory Panel to the USDA and HHS. The government has until the end of the year to accept, reject, or come up with different guidelines that will be set in stone for another five years. The current (above) recommendations are open for public comment from now until April 8th.
YET, there's still a chance that the influence of the food industry will sink its teeth further into the DGAs. They've got A LOT of cash and certainly will not go down without a fight. Don't threaten our meat-eating lifestyle. Lean meat is part of a healthy diet. they'll say. Environmental considerations have no place in dietary recommendations, they want you to believe. The fact is they are wrong and their motives are self-interested.
So, my friends and dear blog post readers, this is our time. Anyone who has a problem with the power-hungry industries influencing our health policy and food choices, anyone who has a concern and appreciation for our beautiful planet, anyone who's tired of paying healthcare costs to support a nation plagued with chronic, diet-related diseases, anyone who has a clear sense of right and wrong, should be involved in this public comment period.
Please take this opportunity to get involved! Just for a minute. Here are some easy things you can do to help the cause.
1. Sign this petition to urge the government to maintain the cholesterol warnings within the Dietary Guidelines. Despite recent and confusing claims, the association between dietary cholesterol intake and heart disease risk has decades of research behind it.
2. Follow this link to sign a petition to counter the Big Food lobby machine and support sustainability in the Dietary Guidelines. This was put together by Center for Biological Diversity, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Friends of the Earth and Healthy Food Action – and joined by several other top environmental and public health groups – has already gained more than 100,000 signatures. It's gaining ground exponentially and has the potential to make a huge impact. All you have to do is sign!
3. Share your own written comment here. The recommended guidelines are in huge need of support from every day Americans, just like you. These individual comments are even more valuable than those of environmental health advocates, as they truly represent the views of the public. If you're at a loss, below is what I have posted. Feel free to copy, paste and edit as you see fit! (and check the box that says Letter to Secretaries in the submission form).
Dear Secretaries Vilsack and Burwell,
I’m writing in support of the DGAC’s recommendations for Americans to follow a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes and low in animal products. There is an abundance of research to support this as the path to optimal human and environmental health that should not be ignored. A plant-based diet can play a key role in the treatment of a multitude of chronic diseases, the most significant being diabetes and heart disease. It’s been shown to be even more effective than the standard diet recommended by the ADA in lowering HgA1c and fasting blood sugar levels. A recent study revealed that when participants switched to a strict low-fat vegetarian diet for just two weeks, they lowered their total serum cholesterol and blood pressure by 11 percent and 6 percent respectively, significantly reducing their risk for heart disease. According to a meta-analysis published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adopting a vegetarian diet leads to weight loss even without calorie counting or exercise. The benefits of a plant based diet are compelling not only in the context of our obesity epidemic but also in the sense of disease prevention, decreasing risk for depression and decreasing healthcare costs as a nation.
However, the report makes a contradictory recommendation by ignoring decades of research that shows a link between dietary cholesterol and heart disease. As cholesterol is only found in animal foods, failing to include warnings against it may lead people to conclude there is no risk in consuming foods such as eggs, dairy and meat. These foods have all been strongly linked to chronic disease by researchers such as Barnard, Esselstyn, Campbell and Mcdougall. The prevalence of health problems in this country is a serious public health concern, and it is clear that action must be taken on a systemic level to truly affect change. Now, more than ever, is a time for bold, evidence-based guidelines that can pave the way to a healthier nation. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines should absolutely include language that focuses on both environmental sustainability and individual health – a plant-based dietary pattern with limited cholesterol.
*all views and opinions are that of Nourishing Journey PCT
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