Dietary Guidelines the Whole Food Perspective

August 24, 2010

What do the U.S. Dietary guidelines, macro and micronutrient recommendations found on food labels and in the food pyramid, really stand for?

What do the U.S. Dietary guidelines, macro and micronutrient recommendations found on food labels and in the food pyramid, really stand for? The current guidelines are based on the discovery of specific dietary insufficiencies as the cause of human diseases and focus on the prevention of these nutrient deficiencies - most of which are unheard of in America today. A recent commentary in theJournal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), “Dietary Guidelines in the 21st Century - a Time for Food,” discusses the fact that the guidelines are no longer relevant nor helping Americans eat more healthfully.
The author’s, Darius Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH and David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD., point out that the guidelines are based on a “reductionist perspective” that focus on the minimum and maximum intakes of specific nutrients rather than focusing on whole foods. Clearly the recommendations need updating as we no longer worry about nutrient deficiencies, but instead excess, and are currently struggling with the virtual epidemic of nutrition related chronic diseases. 
The Lempert Report has been stressing the importance and need for a shift away from a single nutrient focus and rather towards whole, unprocessed and minimally processed foods to obtain optimal health.  If the dietary guidelines were molded to reflect this sentiment, confusion regarding food choice, nutrition facts and diet would diminish.  
The authors comment that, “dietary guidelines are often misused by food manufacturers, taking the nutrient approach to self-serving extremes...‘fortifying’ highly processed foods like refined cereals and sugar-sweetened beverages with selected micronutrients and re-characterizing them as nutritious focusing on nutrients over foods contributes to confusion, distracts from more effective strategies, and promotes marketing and consumption of processed products that normally meet selected nutrient cut points but undermine overall dietary quality.”
CPGs are working hard to reformulate, use fewer ingredients, and minimize processing among other things; therefore The Lempert Report sees the above as an unfair statement especially in the context of the article which calls for a complete overhaul of the current dietary guidelines. Clearly if the government issued dietary guidelines and sponsored nutrition studies are not suitable to inform Americans in healthy choices, how are CPGs to create convenient healthful products for consumers?
The truth of the matter is that it is time to update the dietary guidelines, Americans are in desperate need of clear guidance; the return towards food-based dietary guidelines as the authors suggest may just be the light that were all searching for.