The Afternoon Meal

Whole Diets Matter More Than Single Nutrients

At a time when consensus has formed that fixation on one nutrient (dietary fat) led us astray for the last 30 years, obsession with another nutrient (sugar) is proving to be just as distracting. But the truth is that whole diets matter more than single nutrients.

The focus on healthy dietary patterns in the report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) has been largely obscured by sound bites and headlines about sugar, cholesterol, meat, and saturated fat. While people argue about the fine print, the public is led to ignore the big picture on healthier patterns for eating day in and day out.

The subject of sugar, in particular, brings out too many dogmatic arguments and too little scientific dialog. Dismissal of people with differing views — on both sides — seems easier. So we are left with unresolved differences on views about targets for added sugars. A new World Health Organization (WHO) report calls for goals as low as 5% of total calories from added sugar. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that 25% was the right standard. The DGAC followed WHO, without any mention of the IOM guidance.

Perhaps the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is striking a better balance in their new guidance on snacks, sweetened beverages, added sugars, and schools. They concluded:

A positive emphasis on nutritional value, variety, appropriate portion, and encouragement for a steady improvement in quality will be a more effective approach for improving nutrition and health than simply advocating for the elimination of added sugars.

Soon we may all tire of fighting over single-nutrient dogma and step back to pursue a more holistic approach to nutrition policy.

Click here for the guidance from the AAP and here to read more from Live Science.

The Afternoon Meal, oil on canvas by Luis Meléndez, photograph by Thomas Hawk / flickr

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