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The federal government was out with its latest nutrition guidelines yesterday, urging consumers to “enjoy your food, but eat less” and, in the words of the New York Times story, “drink water instead of sugary drinks like soda, fill your plate with fruits and vegetables and cut down on processed foods filled with sodium, fat or sugar.”

The guidelines were issued as a way of addressing the nation’s expanding obesity problem.

According to the Times, “While the recommendations may seem obvious, it is nonetheless considered major progress for federal regulators, who have long skirted the issue, wary of the powerful food lobby. (The 112-page report even subtly suggests that people eat less pizza and dessert.)

“Previous guidelines urged Americans to curb sugar, solid fats and salt, but avoided naming specific foods, let alone urging consumers to eat less food over all.”

And, the Times writes, “While the guidelines are ostensibly for consumers and federal nutrition programs, they will undoubtedly put additional pressure on the food industry to reformulate processed foods, particularly to reduce the amount of sodium, which was emphasized in the report.

“Similarly, the guidelines’ advice to reduce portion size could put pressure on restaurants, many of which continue to serve portions so large that they could easily serve two people under the government’s guidelines.”

The Times story goes on:

“The specific recommendations on various nutrients were largely unchanged in this year’s guidelines, compared to the last version in 2005, though reductions in sodium were given much greater emphasis.

“Under the guidelines released Monday, about half of the populace should consume 1,500 milligrams of sodium or less each day. That includes children, African-Americans and anyone who is older than 50 or has hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. Everyone else may consume up to 2,300 milligrams, about a teaspoon.

“Now, Americans on average consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day.

“In addition, the guidelines recommend consuming less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids, replacing them with so-called good fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The guidelines suggest making fruits and vegetables cover half of the plate at a meal, choosing fat-free and low-fat dairy products and eating more whole grains and seafood.”
KC's View:
MNB spoke yesterday with a registered dietitian who applauded the simplicity of the new guidelines, but suggested that they could be made even simpler.

One key example: Do ordinary Americans understand some of the language in the recommendations in ways that allow them to act?  For instance, replacing saturated fats with poly- and mono-unsaturated is a good idea, but does everyone get that? Couldn't they simply say, use liquid plant based oils instead of stick butter, lard or shortening? The same could be said about many of the other recommendations - they just weren't specific enough, at least not in some people’s minds.

I always think that simplicity and specificity is best.

I also think that we’ll be getting the inevitable emails from some folks saying that this is the nanny state yet again rearing its head, ignoring the fact that a) these are just recommendations, not mandates, and b) there is a considerable body of opinion out there saying that the nation’s obesity crisis will have long-term financial, health and national security implications, reflecting a nation increasingly non-competitive in a 21st century environment.