Left Hand with Index Finger

Guidelines: Sugar, Alcohol, and Red Meat – Oh My!

Do you want to take a whack at expert opinions on the 2020 Dietary Guidelines? Then today is your last chance. USDA is accepting comments until midnight tonight. So far, it has a mere received 22,434 comments. Believe it or not, this reflects relatively little controversy. The main headlines from this round are all about sugar, alcohol, and red meat. The bottom line is simple: don’t consume so much.

Too Much of a Good Thing

The pattern in the guidance is pretty simple. People tend to zero in on the bad stuff and set limits. The recommendation is proverbial. In fact, Proverbs 25:16 states it clearly:

If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, or else, having too much, you will vomit it.

In other words, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. In this cycle, that boils down to sugar, alcohol, and red or processed meats. The recommendation for added sugars is coming down from a limit of ten percent to six percent of total calories. For alcohol, the call is to recommend no more than one drink per day. The third and final flash point is red and processed meats. The committee did not call for specific limits. But it did recommend “dietary patterns with lower intakes of red and processed meats.”

Restraint Is Not Popular

Though Proverbs is clear, human nature resists. “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful,” said Mae West. Mark Twain agreed, saying, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”

So no one should be surprised that the National Confectioners Association doesn’t like tighter limits on added sugars. Sticking with the old, easier guidance “seems prudent,” says Debra Miller for the Association. The Beer Institute says “the committee got it wrong” on alcohol. And surprise, surprise, the North American Meat Institute sees the potential for “adverse and unintended consequences” from recommending less meat.

Guidelines for All?

In some ways, issuing dietary guidelines for the whole population is an impossible task. One size will never fit all when the subject is food and nutrition. This advisory committee’s report is not the final product of this process. USDA and HHS will issue the final guideline in December. Lobbyists will be busy until then.

The guidelines will break some new ground. They will include recommendations for pregnant and lactating women. Guidance for children under two will be a first. But they will also have gaps. Specifically, though the advisory committee report talks about obesity, it excluded any data from studies of people living with obesity.

Between now and December, the fate of guidance to further limit sugar, alcohol, and red meat will be sealed. Regardless of what happens, we don’t expect much effect on the ongoing pandemic of obesity to come from these guidelines. There’s more heat than light coming from this process.

Click here for more on public discourse about the 2020 guidelines and here to browse through comments from the public. For the advisory committee’s report, click here.

Left Hand with Index Finger, sketch and study by Vasily Polenov / WikiArt

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August 13, 2020

One Response to “Guidelines: Sugar, Alcohol, and Red Meat – Oh My!”

  1. August 13, 2020 at 8:10 am, David Brown said:

    Note that Proverbs 23:20 says, “Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, Or with gluttonous eaters of meat.

    Excerpt from a 1992 article by Olaf Adam: “Within the last 50 years, changing nutritional habits in Western communities led to a fourfold increase in the supply of dietary arachidonic acid (AA), provoked by the same increase in the consumption of meat and meat products. A low oxidation rate and a high affinity uptake system result in the accumulation of AA in cell lipids. Clinical experiments with AA supplements showed the efficient enrichment of AA in plasma lipids and a consecutively exaggerated production of eicosanoids. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12548439/