Last week the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) met for the fourth time as part of the process of developing recommendations for the next set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans. While the DGAC has discussed a variety of topics, one of their major concerns has been the role of meat in our diets. Unfortunately this focus has often taken a negative tone, despite significant evidence of the benefits of meat and poultry in our diets.
During last week’s meeting, the Committee continued its controversial focus on sustainability during deliberations as committee members said that the public health and the environment would benefit from a diet that is more plant based with fewer animal products. The cautions to eat less animal protein stood in stark contrast to slides presented that said, ‘Across all age and gender groups, the vast majority of the population does not meet the recommended intake for fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy food groups. The vast majority of the population exceeds recommended intakes for refined grains, solid fats and added sugars.’ Those multi-color charts showing recommended consumption of various food groups versus actual consumption could not have been plainer: the largest deficiency in the American diet is the under-consumption of key foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy. Despite the fact that this information should have set the tone, many committee members seemed to ignore the information and instead talk about shifting to a diet that is more plant based and eating fewer animal products. We agree that more plant foods should be consumed, but not at the expense of nutrient-dense protein.
The negative bias of some committee members was clear including to one of its own. Committee member Dr. Wayne Campbell of Purdue noted, ‘It seems like there’s a risk that a major food component in our diet is being blanketly evaluated in ways that are different than other food analysis components.’ We agree. A true analysis of the nutrients in meat and poultry will show that that it’s essential to good health and should continue to be part of a balanced diet.
Overall the committee’s continuing focus on sustainability is concerning. Sustainability is a concept that is loosely defined and lacking an extensive body of literature on which conclusions can be drawn and policy can be made. The committee needs to stay committed to its core mission: nutrition.
When the focus is narrowed to strictly nutrition science, meat and poultry products have a great story to tell. AMI submitted to the DGAC a menu model analysis developed by a team of nutrition experts showing that processed meat and poultry products – currently consumed regularly by Americans – can fit into a healthy balanced diet.
The menu model analysis used the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans requirements for macro- and micronutrients and food groups based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet. The menu model incorporated commonly consumed foods and meals found in a typical American diet including food eaten away from home, as well as traditional and better for you choices, which are easy to find options in local grocery stores.
The model demonstrated that diets that include processed meats, even consumed twice daily for a week, allow consumers to stay within daily calorie goals, and daily goals for nutrients to limit, while meeting or exceeding needs for nutrients that should be encouraged. The model shows proper portion size and smart choices, which still allows for consumers to continue enjoying foods such as chocolate and red wine, while helping them build an overall healthy dietary pattern that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.
Idealism vs. Reality
If nutritional guidance is to truly impact the healthfulness of Americans, it needs to address how to improve the food choices they already make, not an idealistic version of an eating pattern that bears no resemblance to the average eating patterns of Americans. Research shows consumers want guidance, but dislike prescriptive advice and a recent commentary in Childhood Obesity argued that forced eating behaviors of foods that are not enjoyed can actually increase interest in the restricted food.
The committee should also consider nutrition data that is based upon the current state of product formulation. A survey of AMI members found that 70 percent of respondents were actively involved in reformulating products to reduce nutrients like sodium, while 50 percent already offer products that qualify as healthy, yet federal nutrition databases do not reflect these efforts.
It is our belief that dietary guidance should be practical, affordable and attainable. Recognizing the eating patterns of the average American and providing information on how they can eat a more healthful diet within the context of their existing food choices is critical. Demonstrating that all foods, including meat, poultry and processed meats, can fit in a balanced diet will lead to consumers making more healthful choices. These types of actionable recommendations could lead to measurable public health improvements.