Author of 'The Big Fat Surprise' attacks the science behind new dietary guidelines

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Nina Teicholz is known to rock the boat, but now she's really making waves. She has published a scathing analysis of the (lack of) scientific method being used to create the new 2015 U.S. dietary guidelines.

Journalist Nina Teicholz is causing trouble for the advisory committee appointed to create the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines. The author of The Big Fat Surprise recently published a scathing critique of the committee’s scientific report in the BMJ. The evidence laid out in the report will be used for the final guidelines, to be released by the end of this year. Teicholz takes issue with the following points (summarized nicely here):

“1. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) admits that its recommended diets fail to meet adequacy goals for a number of essential vitamins and nutrients, including potassium, vitamin D, and vitamin E.

2. Although the report seems to favor whole grains, it still recommends three servings per day of refined grains, despite acknowledging that refined carbohydrates worsen certain heart disease risk factors.

3. DGAC is still mired in the saturated fat/heart disease meme, and purposely ignores the latest evidence to the contrary. Indeed, it still recommends a low fat diet.

4. DGAC trashes low carb, and willfully denies boatloads of favorable evidence. Teicholz provides 141 published references.

5. For its review of the relevant literature, DGAC relied on outside entities for 63 percent of the work. In many cases, there were industry trade associations, or individuals directly supported by them.

6. Inexplicably, DGAC members are not required to reveal potential conflicts of interest. One member has received funding from the tree nut industry, and two have been funded by vegetable oil companies, whose types of products (polyunsaturated vegetable oils) are promoted in the report. The DGAC chair, a non-academic, is president of a company that directly benefits from DGAC positions, and dietary orthodoxy in general.”

Whether or not you agree with Teicholz’s strongly pro-animal protein and saturated fat stance, she is right in asking these uncomfortable questions. If the overall health of Americans has declined so rapidly in the 35 years since dietary guidelines were first introduced, and if the start of that decline coincided with the implementation of guidelines, and if the guidelines affect an estimated 1 in 4 meals eaten by Americans – particularly low-income Americans who have even higher rates of obesity and diabetes and rely on food-assistance programs – then isn’t it time for serious change?

“And yet the overriding conclusion—that Americans should eat a grain-heavy diet low in saturated fat—is largely the same advice that has been given every five years since the guidelines were introduced, in 1980. Back then, less than fifteen per cent of Americans were obese, and Type 2 diabetes in children was extremely rare.” (New York Times)

Now, two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, and approximately one-half have Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. This means that the majority of Americans is not metabolically healthy, which is contrary to what the dietary guidelines assume. The guidelines would do better to reflect and address the current state of health within the country.

It will be interesting to see what effect Teicholz’s comments and the ensuing discussion will have on the ultimate outcome. It’s undeniable that the United States is in the midst of a tremendous health crisis. The DGAC would do well to pay attention to the evidence.

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