Dietary Guidelines: Do They Really Need to be so Complicated?


By Nancy Smorch

The other day, I posted an article on my Facebook about the new Dietary Guidelines that the Brazilian government just released.  I wanted to take a moment and share more thoughts on these guidelines.

First off, let’s go over what the Dietary Guidelines are for Americans.  These guidelines were published in 2010 and are as follows...

Actually, scratch that idea!

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are contained in a 112-page document published jointly by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The coordination of the development of these guidelines is, apparently, done through the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, and Agricultural Research Services.

Let’s pause for a moment and think about how hard the government has made it to develop these guidelines.  With this many departments involved, it’s no wonder guidelines are only published every 5 years (not that we need them published more often, actually).  The last ones were published in 2010 and the next ones are due out in 2015.

If you want to peruse the guidelines, you can click here and check out the whole 112 pages.

First of all, who is going to read such a document?  And second of all, even if you did read it (no, thank you!), you would be so overwhelmed, you wouldn’t know where to begin.  It leaves me wondering if their overall intent is actually to confuse us.

When people are confused, they tend to feel disempowered and look outside themselves for leadership.  Do we really need a 112-page document to explain to us how to eat healthily?

If you dare to dive into the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you will find a number of recommendations, but here is a link for the 3 page Executive Summary, which is a little more clear about what these "guidelines" entail… but still a lot of information for someone that isn’t too familiar with nutrition.

Nutrition happens to be one of the most confusing and conflicting of all sciences.  It’s a very heated area of scientific research - lots of interested parties involved are hoping to sway the population to eat more of this food or less of that food.

But as Michael Pollan (food journalist and author of "The Omnivore’s Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food") comments, eating healthy is really quite simple: “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”

Pretty simple, right?  He elaborates a little to explain when he says “eat food," he means real whole food, not processed food.  He also goes on to say that occasionally eating a little meat wouldn’t harm you - but it should be more of a side dish rather than a main entrée.

Have we really gotten that far away from recognizing and appreciating what real food is that we need the government to tell us how to eat?   And even with this government recommendations, there is so much information, I can see where it would be tempting to just throw your hands up and grab a bag of chips!

Brazil, on the other hand, has done an excellent job of summarizing their recommendations.

Although their document is lengthy as well (although not quite as extensive as the one for the U.S.), their basic top ten recommendations for healthy eating are as follows (thank you to Marion Nestle and her site Food Politics for the summary):

1.  Prepare meals from staple and fresh foods.

2.  Use oils, fats, sugar and salt in moderation.

3.  Limit consumption of ready-to-consume food and drink products

4.  Eat regular meals, paying attention, in appropriate environments.

5.  Eat in company whenever possible.

6.  Buy food at places that offer varieties of fresh foods. Avoid those that mainly sell products ready for consumption.

7.  Develop, practice, share and enjoy your skills in food preparation and cooking.

8.  Plan your time to give meals and eating proper time and space.

9.  When you eat out, choose restaurants that serve freshly made dishes and meals. Avoid fast food chains.

10. Be critical of the commercial advertisement of food products.

I love it!  Pretty simple and common sense stuff.  If I were talking with someone about how to eat a healthier diet, this is more the direction I would steer them.  It really doesn’t take a brain surgeon (or 5 government committees) to figure this one out.  It’s time to simply get back to the basics.

What are your thoughts?