New Dietary Guidelines from the Dept of Agriculture (USDA) / Dept of Health and Human Services (HHS)

New dietary guidelines are required to be published jointly by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) every 5 years by law.  Today (2/1/10) the 2010 guidelines were published (a month late.)

I’m guessing that this is the US government’s way of saying that our base of knowledge about what is healthy and what isn’t — changes constantly.  For example, nearly 30 years ago, eggs were taken off Santa’s Nice List, and relegated to the Naughty List — seemingly forever.  Eggs have since been seen as the Devil’s Own Heart-Attack Pill (whether deviled or not.)

Yet this new 2010 document has put the egg back on its road to redemption — and to list it on equal footing with all other animal proteins, and as a sensible a choice in the pantheon of protein sources.  The new 2010 Guidelines document recommends eggs as part of a VARIED diet.

The collective wisdom of the medical/nutritional community all those years ago, was absolutely certain that eating the cholesterol in egg yolks was a sure-ticket to the cardiac wing of the hospital — and then on to the mortuary.  In the last few months, however, science has marched on.  It turns out, there are so many complex nutrients in eggs, that it is now thought of as potentially one of the Super Foods not to be missed in a normal diet.

Here are some of the conclusions from the links above (which, by the way, represent a fairly significant reversal):

Cracking Open Heart Health Myths
Florida State University researchers examined the relationship between cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors such as body mass index, serum lipids and levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) (a marker for inflammation), and the degree to which these factors are influenced by dietary intake of fiber, fat and eggs. The study found:

  • No relationship between egg consumption and serum lipid profiles, especially serum total cholesterol, as well as no relationship between egg consumption and hs-CRP
  • A positive correlation (meaning the more the higher the risk) between dietary trans-fat intake and CVD risk factors, as well as a negative correlation (meaning lowered risk) between fiber and vitamin C intake and CVD risk factors

These studies support more than 30 years of research showing that healthy adults can consume eggs as part of a healthy diet. Eggs are all-natural and packed with a number of nutrients. One egg has 13 essential vitamins and minerals in varying amounts, high-quality protein and antioxidants, all for 70 calories. Eggs are also an excellent source of choline, an essential nutrient vital for fetal and infant brain development but also good for everyone.

Was the swing against eggs an intentional swipe at the egg industry?  No.  Was it the fault of stupid researchers?  No.  (okay, maybe.)  It was simply a conclusion made without all the research we have NOW — and specifically without the research because the research was/is more complex than the evidence first indicated it would be.  The science just wasn’t there to know then what we know now about the nutritional value of eggs.

When conclusions about nutrition are drawn and passed on to the public — based on a simple correlation like eggs have cholesterol/saturated fat–>saturated fat=arterial health risk, then those simple correlations should always be taken with a grain of salt.  If we are to take a simple 1-to-1 correlation as sufficient, then what do we do with strawberries?  Strawberries (and all fruits) are loaded with sugars.  Sugar=health risk of diabetes?  Or pork chops and their saturated fat?  Or bread with its preponderance of carbohydrates?  There were no universal dietary recommendations made about deadly sugar levels in orange juice or grapes (or wine!) — yet eggs have been vilified most of my lifetime as one of the most unhealthy food choices on the planet.

And “…with a grain of salt” was no accidental choice of words in that paragraph.  Be careful of incomplete or insufficient data.  The recent panic and hatred of all things sodium (see Micheal Bloomberg for details) has the same general timbre as the old song about eggs.

While government agencies attempt to keep their collective head above the flood-waters of fashion and fad — such pressures do occasionally creep into their officially sanctioned documents.

(To read the whole 112pp document, click on the cover, above.)

Here is what this document says are its key bits:

Key Recommendations

  • Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. The 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults.
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol.
  • Keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible, especially by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils, and by limiting other solid fats.
  • Reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.
  • Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium.
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age.

So, not so bad.  The problem is — it really is a 112pp document.  And yes, I did read it.

And to publish just those key points, makes it sound like the other 111 1/2 pages are just over-writing and scientific charts and equations.  Which it is not.  The other pages are where the meat of the recommendations — the WHY, and HOW, and WHAT IF — are explained.  What if you’re a vegetarian?  What if you’re lactose intolerant or living gluten-free?  What if you’re on chemotherapy?  What if you’re 2 years old, as opposed to 92 years old?  What if you’re pregnant?  What if your family history is full of cancer, or heart disease, or diabetes, or deep vein thrombosis?  (or any of a thousand other considerations….) All those things have to be taken into consideration, and considered as worth the time and trouble.

It can’t be all about sound-bytes and cost-effectiveness.

One website had a staffer put up a page today to link to the 2010 Dietary Recommendations.  But instead of just a link — the staffer also wrote up a summary for their readers.  The problem was, the staffer filtered the document through his/her own bias and left out so many of the warnings and recommendations that anyone who read their summary would be ill-informed and misled about the contents of the original document.

Then, the summary-link page opened up a discussion with “What do you think about these new guidelines?”

And the responses were unbelievable!

One person’s only response was: “Why can’t these people understand that the only thing that makes us fat is eating carbs?  It’s sooo simple!  They’re just too lazy to bother to get it right!”

Another person said, “Why can’t we get the government to force these big food companies to use less salt?”

And another responded, “What business is it of the government to tell me how to eat?  What a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

And the best (worst?) said, “I know a girl who eats 3000-4000 calories a day and never exercises, and she’s skinny.  That doesn’t even make sense.  It’s just impossible.  And she eats whatever she wants.  I think the government is lying to us about what causes obesity.  They must be experimenting on us without our knowledge for this to be happening….”  And it went on from there.

Unfortunately, all this comes at the center of the whirlwind driven by the mammoth food industry which feeds us what it chooses, regardless of nutritional recommendations; the federally sponsored farm subsidies that pour good money after bad insecticides, pesticides, and herbicides; and the behemoth diet and fitness industry that neither helps the population toward healthy weight, nor makes them fit….

So the bottom line is, government agencies are writing guidelines and recommendations.  People read and filter out what they want, and isolate what they do want.  Other people try to extrapolate rules out of guidelines, and then impose those rules on other people.  Other folks already have their minds made up, and don’t want to be confused by researchers, doctors, government agencies, or anybody else.  Still more folks want somebody to make rules for everybody, and then shoot anyone who doesn’t follow them….

Recommendations and guidelines are slippery little monsters.

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