In my last blog I discussed the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. I explained how these guidelines were written with the goal of promoting health and preventing chronic disease for Americans. I shared their basic suggestions. Limit your calories from sugars and saturated fats. Reduce your sodium intake. Focus on eating more vegetables and more fruits. Consume fat free or low fat milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy. For proteins, consider more fish and less meat, especially red meat. Poultry would be a better choice. Eat more nuts and seeds. Reduce your alcohol consumption.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines also addressed exercise. They suggested aerobic exercise: 150 minutes a week in active physical exercise or at least 20 minutes of active exercise each day such as walking, jogging, swimming. They also encouraged us to engage in muscle strengthening exercises and bone strengthening exercises. For muscle strengthening exercises, then suggested weight lifting or some exercises (pulling or pushing) against resistance. For bone strengthening exercise, then offered examples of stair step machines or treadmill walking or balance exercises or posture exercises or functional exercises.
So, how would I, as a physician, grade these 5-year recommendations? I would give the committee a solid “C”, not a grade higher. Let me explain. The committee is formed from the US Department of Health and Human Sciences and the US Department of Agriculture. These two organizations are heavily funded by the large agricultural giants or should I say the large chemical companies that currently produce food. So, that funding source prevents the committee from taking any sort of leading, more assertive role. They reluctantly follow; they never lead.
Let me give you a more personal perspective. Have you ever sat on a large committee that makes policy decisions? I have. I worked, as an associate medical director, for one of the countries largest health care agencies. There is a simple truth. The larger the committee, the weaker the strength of the suggestions. Why? Because the greater the number of voices, especially when they are voices influenced by outside influences, the more central the final policy suggestion. In my view, the committee made recommendations that were already well established. They failed to address some of the key issues for America’s dietary health.
Let me discuss two issues. The first issue is gluten. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines failed to even discuss this issue. Yet, the amount of gluten in our bread, pastries, and pasta has increased 40-fold in the past 25 years. Millions of Americans now have gluten sensitivities, which create many health difficulties. Many companies are now creating gluten-free products and many restaurants now offer gluten-free meals. That approach is meeting a medical need. That approach is helping to improve our national health. The US Government and its Dietary Guidelines decided to avoid that issue. That is a significant deficiency in their report.
Here is another example. Americans face another central health risk: GMOs or genetically modified food. The easiest example is corn as 90% of all of the corn in the United States is genetically modified. But GMOs are spreading through other crops. Recently, there are even salmon farms with GMOs. The majority of Americans currently have GMOs in their blood stream. Something that was unheard of 10 years ago; and the GMOs are believed, by many researchers, to cause damage to our immune system, leading to chronic illnesses, even cancer.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines could have easily addressed these issues. They could have taken a strong, bold approach, educating the public on these issues and recommending caution with the high level of gluten and offering a warning with GMO foods. But they choose to duck these issues. It’s like Congress deciding not to vote on some bill. Just let it quietly disappear and hope no one notices. Well, many physicians noticed and are not satisfied. We expected more from our government and more from the Dietary Guidelines.
We just had our first elections of this presidential cycle. If there was one consensus, it was confirmation of the rising anti-Washington DC establishment for its lack of productivity. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans falls under that same Washington DC umbrella. Too little courage. Too little action. However, I will applaud the committee for at least its fundamental positions to reduce sugar, lower sodium, eat more vegetables / fruit, reduce red meat while increasing fish and poultry, adding more nuts and seeds, and drinking less alcohol. At least that is a starting point – a basic starting point.
If you want to really improve your health, you need to go beyond their suggestions. You do not have to believe me. There are a ton of reliable sites on the Internet that discuss health and diet or exercise and diet. As stating in the opening of the prior blog, you need to take control of your diet, your exercise, and your health. Do not depend just on your physician. Do not depend just on our government. Depend on how you utilize your own fork and spoon. Depend on how you set up your own exercise programs. But make no mistake about our shared reality. The ball is in our court. It is up to each of us to be better informed.