Question Mark

Will 2020 Guidelines Skip Tough Questions?

Tough to solve an issue if we don’t talk about it. But a number of dietary issues appear to be off the table for the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Red meat? Too hot to handle. Ultra-processed foods? Nope. Sodium? Not on the issue list. The 2020 Guidelines may just skip over some of the tough questions that bedeviled drafters of the 2015 edition, reports the Washington Post.

80 Questions

It’s not like the expert advisory committee will be twiddling thumbs. They do have 80 questions to address. Those questions have some repetition in them. And they fall into the work of eight distinct subcommittees.

To be fair, you’ll find some thorny questions in the list of 80 on the table. One of the subcommittees is focusing solely on dietary fats and seafood. Another is focusing on added sugars and beverages. And then, the dietary patterns subcommittee has some pretty broad and challenging questions to answer.

So we see plenty of room for rigorous debates. But it’s also pretty clear that the table is set to avoid messy discussions about red meat. The beef industry likes it this way. Many nutrition advocates do not. Says Marion Nestle:

The cutting-edge issues in dietary advice in 2019 are about eating less meat, avoidance of ultra-processed foods, and sustainable production and consumption. Guidelines that avoid these issues will be years behind the times.

Limits on Research Inputs

Another point of contention is a new restriction on research the expert committee can consider. Nutrition advocates are up in arms about the decision to limit the use of research reviews that don’t come from USDA. A letter from 46 nutrition research and advocacy groups challenged the decision to exclude independent systematic reviews and meta-analyses. It will keep some high-quality research out of the process, they wrote.

One thing is clear. By controlling the questions and the flow of information, USDA has positioned itself to get the answers it wants for the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In the end, this committee is only advisory anyway. Because USDA and HHS will write the final guidelines.

So it will be an interesting process to watch. Some are already saying that “The Junk Food President Aims to Ruin American Nutrition.” That might be a little harsh. But it’s a perfect reflection of how polarized politics are playing out in food policy.

Click here for reporting from the Washington Post on this issue.

Question Mark, photograph © Nicolò Bonazzi / flickr

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August 31, 2019

One Response to “Will 2020 Guidelines Skip Tough Questions?”

  1. September 01, 2019 at 8:09 am, David Brown said:

    In a 2011 article entitled “Animal products, diseases and drugs: a plea for better integration between agricultural sciences, human nutrition and human pharmacology” Norwegian animal scientists Anna Haug and Olav Christophersen wrote, “It is shown how an unnaturally high omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid concentration ratio in meat, offal and eggs (because the omega-6/omega-3 ratio of the animal diet is unnaturally high) directly leads to exacerbation of pain conditions, cardiovascular disease and probably most cancers. It should be technologically easy and fairly inexpensive to produce poultry and pork meat with much more long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and less arachidonic acid than now, at the same time as they could also have a similar selenium concentration as is common in marine fish. The health economic benefits of such products for society as a whole must be expected vastly to outweigh the direct costs for the farming sector.”

    Why were these scientists concerned about poultry and pork? Why didn’t they mention red meat? Because red meat is not nearly as rich in arachidonic acid as the meat derived from monogastrics such as pigs, chickens, and turkeys which are fed grain during the entire production cycle. “When considering the reported beneficial health effects of oils rich in oleic acid, we previously suggested that many of the positive effects would be anticipated if the fatty acid works to counteract effects of arachidonic acid (AA, 20:4 n6). This fatty acid is formed in the body from linoleic acid (LA, 18:2 n6), a major constituent in many plant oils, and is converted by cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase into various eicosanoids, i.e. prostacyclines, thromboxanes and leukotrienes. AA derived thromboxane A2 (TXA2) and leukotriene B4 have strong proinflammatory and prothrombotic properties. Furthermore, endocannabinoides, which are derived from arachidonic acid, may have a role in adiposity and inflammation.”

    The above paragraph at least partly explains why a Mediterranean style diet is beneficial for weight control. Meat (arachidonic acid) intake is lowered and culinary oils rich in linoleic acid are swapped for oils rich in oleic acid.