Monday, January 31, 2011

U.S. Gov't to Unveil New Dietary Guidelines Today

Healthy eating is hard. It should be easy, but with so many confusing messages and cheap, easily accessible unhealthy options, it's no surprise that people struggle with their diets. So, in an effort to make things a little bit more clear cut and help battle the obesity epidemic in their nation, the U.S. Government is unveiling new dietary guidelines today in a press conference at 10am.

The dietary guidelines have been re-vamped every five years since the 80s, and there have certainly been meaningful and helpful tweaks along the way based on the latest evidence regarding maintaining good health. But what can Americans expect to see that is different today? According to Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University, former member of the scientific committee that produces the guidelines and a huge advocate of healthy, sustainable eating, "The committee made a really big point about how it was impossible for individuals to make healthy food choices, even if they wanted to, in the current food environment,". That environment includes giant portion sizes, and too many visits to restaurants or other unhealthy 'convenient' food options. This is the first time that the food guide might reflect the social environment of the nation, rather than simply focusing on individuals.

In addition to social pressures, another barrier to healthy eating is that the messages in the food guide can often be quite confusing. According to Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the food guide often focuses on nutrients rather than foods themselves, which is hard for most people to wrap their heads around. "They focus on food when the message is positive, but they focus on nutrients when the message is negative," Wootan said. "So they will say, 'eat less sodium, sugars and fats' instead of saying, 'eat less pizza, hamburgers, cookies and soda.' "

Despite this, Nestle, along with other prominent researchers and nutrition professionals, isn't expecting to see too many changes to the current guide. For example, Glenn Gaesser, director of Arizona State University's Healthy Lifestyles Research Center believes that, since science supports the adoption of a plant-based diet, the food guide should eventually start to reflect this fact. "But no," He said, "we'll never see that [in the Dietary Guidelines]. Not in our lifetime. The lobbies are too strong." So, while everyone is waiting eagerly to see what changes will be included in the new food guide, nobody is holding their breath or expecting miracles.