By MARSHA MERCER
Hello, whole milk, my old friend. Welcome back, eggs. Where you been, salt?
The federal government is about to write new nutritional guidelines aimed at keeping Americans healthy. Whole milk soon may be back in our good graces, along with eggs and even salt. Unless they’re not.
No wonder people are confused and peeved, if not angry.
The last thing anyone wants in nutrition rules is uncertainty. Why waste precious time deciding whether to buy a can of chicken noodle soup based on its milligrams of sodium if the science now says sodium is not a big deal? Our knowledge of nutrition and health is constantly changing.
A headline on the front page of Wednesday’s Washington Post read: “A thinning case that fat causes heart ills – New studies vindicate whole milk as dietary advice is revised.” Uh-oh.
We’ve been told for decades to substitute low- and non-fat milk for whole milk to prevent heart disease and other health problems. It turns out that whole milk may contribute less to heart trouble than the low-fat foods loaded with refined grains and sugar that we substitute for it.
In other words, cookies and cakes, even the low-fat variety, are no solution.
Researchers found that people who included more milk fat in their diets actually suffered lower levels of heart disease than those who consumed less. And, no, the studies were not paid for by the dairy industry.
Cholesterol also isn’t the problem we once thought, so eggs, red meat and shrimp may no longer set off alarm sirens. We eat too much salt, but it may not be the culprit it seemed. And on top of all that, one study found that breakfast may not be the most important meal of the day.
Naturally, people are frustrated. It’s tempting to throw federal Dietary Guidelines out with the skim milk.
“People may be losing confidence in the guidelines,” Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said Wednesday at a House Agriculture Committee hearing, adding that many of his constituents “don’t believe this stuff anymore.
"They’re “flat out ignoring this stuff,” he said.
“Given the public’s skepticism, we should maybe reconsider why we are doing this,” Peterson said.
We are doing this because Congress in 1990 required that federal dietary guidelines be issued at least every five years. The guidelines set policy for everything from school lunches and other federal food programs to advice to individuals about what to eat to prevent such chronic conditions as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cancer and obesity.
Dietary Guidelines 2015 are due to be released by the end of the year.
An independent advisory committee that is helping the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture prepare the 2015 guidelines issued a massive report with several controversial recommendations. During the public comment period, about 29,000 comments were submitted – vastly more than five years ago.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said the committee’s report is not a draft of the new rules, which have not yet been written.
In a blog post this week previewing the new guidelines, Vilsack and Burwell said the new rules will look a lot like the old.
“Fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains and lean meats and other proteins and limited amounts of saturated fats, added sugars and sodium remain the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle,” they said.
Two recommendations by the advisory committee are definitely out. There will be no sustainability goals and no tax on sugary soft drinks, Vilsack and Burwell said. Sustainability refers to the environmental impact of food production. Meat and other producers that require a lot of water lobbied heavily against including sustainability in the guidelines. Soft-drink companies rallied against the tax.
Critics still will complain that the federal government shouldn’t tell us what to eat. Republicans criticize the “food police” as vociferously as health advocates complain about subsidies to sugar and corn. Conservatives want the National Academy of Sciences Food and Nutrition Board to review the guidelines before they’re released to the public. That could delay the process.
So, what should you do if you’re fed up with the government’s changing recommendations about good nutrition? The most practical advice may be: Get used to it. And, to be on the safe side, put the salt away.
(C) 2015 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.