It’s been called an attack. It’s been called nonsensical. Out of touch. Biased. Uninformed. Misleading.
It’s the so-called “Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC).” It will be used by the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to update the nation’s dietary guidelines, which are the foundation for federal nutrition policy and food assistance programs throughout the country, including the National School Lunch Program. And it could result in new dietary guidelines with a smaller spot on the dinner plate reserved for red meat.
According to the report’s executive summary, the 14-person DGAC took more than a year to review scientific literature related to what we eat in America, specifically focusing on “intake of specific nutrients and food groups; food categories that contribute to intake; eating behaviors; and the composition of various dietary patterns shown to have health benefits.”
From this analysis, the DGAC reports that American’s generally underconsume vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium, fiber, potassium, and iron (among some women). On the flip side, sodium and saturated fat are overconsumed, according to the report. Further, the DGAC says data shows key food groups that are underconsumed are fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy, while refined grains and added sugar intake is too high. Fair enough; in a nation where more than one-third of adults are classified as obese, this didn’t necessarily come as a surprise.
What was surprising, however, was the DGAC’s summary statement, which says, “The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.” With a footnote buried at the bottom of a 571-page report that further states “As lean meats were not consistently defined or handled similarly between studies, they were not identified as a common characteristic across the reviews. However, as demonstrated in the food pattern modeling of the Healthy U.S.-style and Healthy Mediterranean-style patterns, lean meats can be part of a healthy dietary pattern.”
So the Mediterranean-style dietary pattern, which has higher red meat levels than currently consumed in the United States, is A-OK, but a healthy dietary pattern should be lower in red meat. I’m confused.
Thankfully, this isn’t an open- and shut-case. While HHS Secretary Mathews Burwell and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack already have this report in their hands, the American public can submit comments to the agencies through April 8 that will also be considered as the guidelines are drafted.
Hopefully, it will be brought to the Secretaries’ attention while America’s consume too much saturated fat, not all fat is created equal. Monounsaturated fat, the heart-healthy fat kind, is also in beef. In fact, beef is considered one of the top sources of monounsaturated fat.
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It’s also recognized as an excellent source of protein, zinc, vitamin B12, niacin and selenium, and a good source of phosphorus, choline, iron and riboflavin. They should also be made aware that while the DGAC recommends considering more plant sources for protein, calorie-for-calorie, beef packs a powerful punch. For example, a 3-ounce piece of lean beef has about 150 calories. A person would have to eat seven tablespoons of peanut butter (670 calories), or 1.5 cups of black beans (374 calories), or 1.25 cuts of raw soy tofu (236 calories) in order to reach 25 grams of protein.
The DGAC has been sent HHS and USDA. Now it’s your turn. The agencies need balanced, science-based information. Diminishing the role of red and processed meats in the diet isn’t going to solve the nation’s health issues. Beef can be part of the answer, and it’s time to set the record straight.