Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Gets It Mostly Right
Statement of CSPI Policy Associate Jessi Silverman
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans contains the federal government’s nutrition advice for the public and forms the basis for most federal, state, and local food programs and policies, such as the National School Lunch Program. Contrary to the notion that nutrition advice is always changing, yesterday the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reaffirmed the strong scientific grounds to support many long-standing recommendations. They are the starting point for much-needed efforts to overhaul the poor-quality diets that are making most of us sick, driving up our health costs, and undermining our national security.
The committee concluded that dietary patterns rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, and seafood, and lower in red and processed meats, refined grains, and foods and beverages high in added sugars are associated with a lower risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hip fracture, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and all-cause mortality.
The committee also affirmed the science underlying recommendations to limit saturated fat in the diet, which had been under attack in part from self-interested industry groups. Top sources of saturated fat in the average diet are beef, pork, processed meats, cheese, whole and 2 percent milk, and butter.
We welcome the committee’s strong recommendation to reduce Americans’ consumption of added sugars from less than 10 percent of calories to less than 6 percent of calories for anyone aged 2 or older. Although a separate subcommittee failed to reach a strong conclusion on the impact of sugary drinks on weight gain (based on a review of evidence from 2012 to 2019), the overall stronger limit on added sugars, which is based on a broader body of evidence, is an indication that a healthy diet leaves little room for excess sugars, including from soda and other sugary drinks.
The committee did not issue recommendations on sodium intake because the 2020 Dietary Guidelines will instead incorporate the sodium advice in a 2019 report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, which advises a limit of 2,300 mg per day for most Americans.
Once final, most of the committee’s recommendations should be adopted without reservation in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines. We also need public health strategies that better support healthy eating. The coronavirus pandemic is renewing the urgency to address our nation’s burden of diet-related chronic disease, which disproportionately falls on low-income people and communities of color.