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What you should know about the government’s new nutritional guidelines

A government advisory committee made a series of recommendations this past week about what Americans should and shouldn't eat and drink, which will help shape the official guidelines being drawn by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. For more about this, Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University joins Hari Sreenivasan.

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    A government advisory committee made a series of recommendations Thursday about what Americans should, and shouldn't eat and drink. The group's findings will help shape the official guidelines being drawn by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

    For more about this, we are joined now from Boston by Alice Lichtenstein. She is a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University and helped draft the guidelines.

    So, I know it was a 500-plus-page report, but in broad strokes, what were the major areas of focus in this report?


    Well, the major area of focus was that we should really be thinking about the whole diet, a dietary pattern and not just individual components, because we know when one component of the diet goes up, another component of the diet goes down.


    So, how different is that from the recommendations that came out, say, five years ago?


    There are subtle tweaks. So, first of all, these aren't recommendations. Remember, this is just a summary of the evidence, a report.

    And I would say some of the differences are that we put less emphasis on restricting dietary cholesterol because the evidence didn't support it. We addressed issues related to sodium, which has been quite controversial, indicating that the important thing to focus on is reducing sodium intake.

    We recommended putting a limit on the amount of added sugar that anyone consumes at one time. And then also addressed issues related to coffee, indicating that coffee consumption, per se, does not have adverse effects. It may actually have beneficial effects, although you have to be concerned about the amount of cream and sugar that's added.


    You've also already gotten push-back from the beef industry, and possibly the sugar lobby, the beverage industry because this is the one of the first times that I remember you are saying consume less of something, like less red meat.


    In terms of the red meat, from the meat industry, I think there is somewhat of a misunderstanding. We do say that diets high in red and processed meats are associated with increased adverse health outcomes. However, we also clearly state that consuming a limited amount of lean red meat is — can fit into a healthy dietary pattern.


    And you also added a sustainability component to this, saying that certain foods like plant-based foods are more sustainable and perhaps we should choose in that direction. And that's gotten some push-backs from folks saying, you know what, that's a political and ideological distinction. It has no bearing on what type of food we should be eating.


    Well, I think there's more nuance there, that if the federal government makes certain recommendations about eating more of something, then we have to make sure that it's going to be available and that there's not going to be any adverse effect on the environment.

    And I think we saw that with fish when we — there was a recommendation quite a few years ago to increase fish consumption. There was a lot of concern about depleting the stocks of wild-caught fish.

    So, the industry really stepped in and developed some really sustainable and environmentally responsible ways of farming fish, and I think we can use that as a model for some of the other concerns that have been raised.

    I don't think it should be viewed, necessarily, as negative or trying to impede any one industry. I think it's just — we should view it as an opportunity to be creative.


    So help me understand how this report impacts the budget decisions that are made on, say, school lunches or nutrition programs?


    According to the federal legislation, any feeding program that is supported by federal dollars has to adhere to the dietary guideline. So, if the dietary guidelines that are going to come out at the end of this year indicate that less than 10 percent of calories should come from sugar, that means feeding programs, whether it be military or the school lunch, would have to limit the amount of sugar that's actually in those meals.


    All right. Alice Lichtenstein, thanks so much for your time.


    You're very welcome. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

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