Elixir Vegetal

The News in 2020 Dietary Guidelines? Alcohol & Sugar

Maybe you’ve noticed. The news coming from Washington is lots of noise and not much news. So why should the 2020 Dietary Guidelines be any different? We’re about halfway through the process and Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is wrapping up its work. But it doesn’t look like the experts will be recommending a lot of big changes. Two exceptions stand out though. The committee is on its way to recommending less alcohol and less added sugar in the guidelines.

Added Sugars

Right now, the 2015 guidelines tell people to get no more than ten percent of their daily calories from added sugars. It was a nice round number. The math was easier. However, the draft conclusion of the committee brings that number down to six:

Assuming typical population-level intakes of solid fats and no consumption of alcohol, this leaves 6 percent or fewer additional kilocalories available for the consumption of added sugars for most energy levels.

On top of that, the committee is recommending sugar-sweetened beverages be forbidden for children under two. Clearly the “sugar is toxic” meme will have life for years to come. No problem. The food industry is finding other ways to add sugar and sweetness – without having “added sugars” show up on labels. People want sweetness, but not the evil added sugars. So industry has many ways to help consumers rationalize. Such is the magic of innovation and marketing.

Lay Off the Booze

Another notable change is likely to be alcohol. Since 1980, moderation in drinking was defined as two alcoholic beverages per day. That’s coming down to a max of one – along with a warning that less is always better. Thomas Gremillion at the Consumer Federation of America says this is a big deal:

This is significant because the committee has finally gotten away from this idea that a small amount of alcohol is good for you. They’re really taking a stand and saying drinking less is always better. That’s the right message and I think they deserve credit for making that change.

Bottom line, the committee is canceling the health halo around moderate drinking. Red wine fans might take exception.

Far from Final

Of course, these conclusions are based on science. So we cannot know what will come out of the black box at HHS and USDA. That’s what spits out the final version of Dietary Guidelines for Americans when this bloody year mercifully ends. Even in the best of times, the final product reflects politics as well as science. In the current administration, science counts only when it’s convenient.

With that caveat, this is worth watching. Will the guidelines call for less alcohol and less added sugar? Scientists say yes. But politicians get the final word.

Click here for more on the added sugar guidance and here for more on alcohol. To read the committee’s final report issued today, click here. You’ll have to scroll through and go question by question.

Elixir Vegetal (71% alcohol, taken with sugar), photograph © Kevin O’Mara / flickr

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July 15, 2020

4 Responses to “The News in 2020 Dietary Guidelines? Alcohol & Sugar”

  1. July 15, 2020 at 10:59 am, Richard Atkinson said:

    Nice discussion, but I suspect the final word will come neither from politicians nor scientists. Thinking we can change millennia of dietary choicesof sweet things and alcohol is probably very wishful thinking. People are going to ignore this and the reputations of politicians, and unfortunately, of nutrition scientists, will fall further. Personally, I think I will give up that last year of life from 102 to 103 and continue to enjoy my glass of wine at dinner and my 7% of kcal/d as sugar.

    • July 15, 2020 at 2:18 pm, Ted said:

      I suspect you are right, Richard. It might be hard to prove the four decades of Dietary Guidelines have improved the healthfulness of dietary patterns in America.

  2. July 16, 2020 at 3:54 am, Chester Draws said:

    Once we are no longer allowed booze, cigarettes, fat or sugar, what will they come for next? Meat, obviously. Then anything tasty I suppose.

    Life has risks. The risks of moderate consumption of booze, sugar and far are more than compensated for by their pleasures. Small amounts of red wine have consistently shown to be good. Fat is a required component of a healthy diet. Sugar, as such, is not a problem.

    The wowsers are making the Puritans look like jolly people.