Nutritional Guidelines: Ingredient Approach is not the Answer

June 17, 2010

The U.S. nutritional guideline discussion continues to propel the solution to obesity in American no where.

The U.S. nutritional guideline discussion continues to propel the solution to obesity in American no where. This week the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, reviewing the guidelines, released a report recommending a decrease in sodium from the current level of less than 2,300 milligrams a day to less than 1,500, phasing out processed grains like white flour and decreasing saturated fat from 10 percent to 7 percent of daily calories.
Supermarket Guru believes that focusing on single-ingredient issues versus changing the American diet and lifestyle is not the proper approach. By singling out ingredients, rather than focusing on communication and education, consumers are taught to avoid ingredients rather than read labels. The focus should be on reading labels holistically, rather than demonizing ingredients.
Steering consumers away from one particular ingredient rather than focusing on a healthy diet, reading nutritional labels and a lifestyle that includes exercise misses the point. For example, food manufacturers have been introducing sugar-free versions of cookies, cakes, pudding and sodas for years in an effort to stall the consumption of sugar. A recent report from the Los Angeles Times notes that diabetics comprise just under 8% of the U.S. population, whereas close to 30% of Americans say they regularly consume foods that are either sugar-free, reduced-sugar or sweetened with sugar substitutes. Experts note that people most interested in purchasing sugar-free foods are those who are overweight or obese.
But consumers who are reaching for these sugarless products are not necessarily avoiding the caloric equation. Nutritional labels tell the story- just because something is sugar-free does not mean it won't have flour, protein and fat - in fact many times manufacturers will up the fat content to make up for flavor. Additionally, sweet snacks usually are loaded with refined carbohydrates that remain even if the sugar has been removed.
The L.A. Times article went on to use the example of a sugar-free Hershey Special Dark bar. A 40-gram serving (about one full-sized bar) provides 160 calories; the full-sugar version provides 180 calories. In some instances, the caloric difference between standard and sugar-free versions is even more negligible. Compare, for instance, the 107 calories in two regular Oreos with the 100 calories in two sugar-free Oreos.
It's not news that Americans of all ages consume too few vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains, low-fat milk and milk products, and seafood and they eat too much added sugars, solid fats, refined grains, and sodium - as stated in the report - but singling out ingredients and redesigning the food pyramid will have little impact on the issue.
The panel's recommendations are to be considered when the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services develop new national dietary guidelines to be released this year. Congress mandates that the guidelines be revised every five years.
The guidelines in turn will form the basis of the USDA's updated food pyramid, scheduled to be released in spring 2011. The only real benefit could be the impact the guidelines could have on U.S. school breakfasts and lunches and other federal programs, but if the end result is only reduced-sodium chicken nuggets, have we really made a significant improvement?
One significant change the report touched on is the debate on public policy and the challenge to "accomplish population-wide adoption of healthful dietary patterns within the context of powerful influences that currently promote unhealthy consumer choices, behaviors, and lifestyles." It is true that families need to learn how to cook healthier food and to understand holistically the ingredients they are putting in their bodies.

Note: It has been brought to our attention that the report recommends Americans’ lower their intake of refined grains, rather than completely phase them out.  Refined grains are grain products that have been stripped of the bran and germ and thus do not contain the same amount of healthful fiber, vitamins, minerals and other bioactive compounds, as do whole grains.  The report clearly states that, “overconsumption of refined grains is a major source of extra calories in the diet. [However] When refined grains are consumed, these grains should be enriched and fortified.” Many refined grains are enriched with folic acid (among other vitamins and minerals) which is particularly important for women of childbearing age.  For more information about the report visit the USDA site.