As you probably know, the USDA released its newest dietary guidelines last week. Here’s what Medscape online had to say:

Watch your sugar, use caution with the salt shaker, and limit those saturated fats.

That’s the advice from the updated U.S. nutritional guidelines, released Thursday by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. The guidelines are published every 5 years and aim to reflect the latest science-based evidence about what we eat.

If the guidelines aim to reflect the latest science-based evidence, then the committee members have a lousy aim. Several recent studies have concluded that saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease, and yet the USDA still tells us to restrict saturated fat. The committee also tells us to restrict salt, even though a study commissioned by the Centers For Disease Control concluded that following those guidelines isn’t necessary and might even be harmful.

“Diet is one of the most powerful tools we have to take control of our own health,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told reporters at a briefing Thursday. “There are many ways to stay healthy, but nutrition will always be at the foundation of good health.”

That’s true. Too bad we have the USDA telling people what to eat. I seem to recall that Americans were leaner and healthier before the USDA got involved.

While some groups like the American Medical Association praise and support the guidelines, critics say the recommendations don’t go far enough — and they’ve accused the government of playing politics with Americans’ health.

“It really is a betrayal of science to politics,” says David Katz, MD, founding director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, a federally funded program that studies how changes to lifestyle can prevent disease. “Public health, which means the lives of real people, is being thrown under the political bus.”

I agree with Dr. Katz that the USDA guidelines have little to do with real science – but then neither do the guidelines developed by Dr. Katz. As you may or may not recall, Katz is the goofball behind a nutrition-rating system called NuVal.  I wrote about it back in 2010.  You can read that post, but here’s all you really need to know: according to Katz, these are excellent choices:

Shredded Wheat
Chocolate Soy Milk (30 grams of sugar)

And these are lousy choices:

Chicken breast
Turkey breast

Frankly, I’m amazed media reporters are still running to Dr. Katz for (ahem) “expert” commentary. Once a guy’s proved himself a fraud, that ought to disqualify him – and yes, Katz proved himself a fraud awhile back. He wrote glowing reviews of his own book reVision, which he published under a pseudonym. Here’s a quote from the Yale Daily News:

In February 2014, David Katz MPH ’93, the director of the Yale School of Medicine’s Prevention Research Center, wrote two glowing online reviews of a science-fiction novel called reVision.

In his biweekly column in The Huffington Post, Katz lauded the book’s “lyrically beautiful writing,” comparing it to the work of a veritable “who’s who” of great writers, including Plato, John Milton and Charles Dickens. “I finished with a sense of illumination from a great source,” he concluded. “The most opportune comparison may be to a fine wine.” Katz had used similar language two days earlier in a five-star product review he posted on the book’s page on Amazon.

When a guy 1) writes a review of his own book without explaining that it’s his own book and 2) compares himself to Plato, Milton and Dickens, it’s pretty obvious we’re talking a giant egomaniac.

Katz said the reviews conveyed his honest opinion and that he concealed the true authorship of reVision because he preferred to keep his professional life separate from his fiction writing.

Ahh, I see. It’s your honest opinion that you’re in the same league as Plato, Milton and Dickens. Well, sheeoot, that makes it okay, then … although here’s a alternate suggestion for keeping your professional life separate from your fiction writing: go ahead and write your novels under pseudonym – but then don’t write glowing reviews under your real name. That way, you won’t look like a giant egomaniac (and a bit of a moron).  Either way, I kind of doubt literature majors of the future will be mentioning Plato, Milton, Dickens and Katz in the same sentence.

Anyway, Katz is apparently upset that the guidelines didn’t place specific limits on eating meat.  (Remember, we’re talking about a guy who thinks chocolate soy milk is health food, but turkey and chicken will kill you.)

The guidance does recommend we eat lean meats and poultry, and it notes that eating less meat, including processed meat and processed poultry, has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. But it doesn’t offer specific instructions or limits around red and processed meats. Choices can include processed meats and processed poultry, as long as eating patterns stay within the limits for sodium, saturated fats, added sugar, and calories recommended by the new guidelines.

“The science on the link between cancer and diet is extensive,” says Richard Wender, MD, chief cancer control officer for the American Cancer Society. “By omitting specific diet recommendations, such as eating less red and processed meat, these guidelines miss a critical and significant opportunity to reduce suffering and death from cancer.”

The “science” on the link between cancer and diet may be extensive, but it’s also mostly garbage.  People who want to blame meat (a food humans have been eating forever) for causing cancer (a “disease of civilization” that was exceedingly rare among hunter-gatherers) simply cherry-pick the observational studies where a link exists, no matter how weak it is.  There are plenty of observational studies that don’t show a link.  There are even studies where rates of colon cancer go up as people eat meat, then go down again as they eat even more meat.  I wrote about those here.

Well, never mind those studies.  Katz is still convinced them (ahem) “science” linking meat to cancer was ignored:

“This is a sad day for nutrition policy in America,” he [Katz] writes. “It is a sad day for public health. It is a day of shame.” In a social media post, he calls the guidelines “a national embarrassment.”

As embarrassing as being caught reviewing your own novel and comparing yourself to Plato, Milton and Dickens?

There was one significant change in the USDA guidelines:

For the first time, the 2015 guidelines tackle added sugars, recommending they make up less than 10% of Americans’ diets. Those do not include naturally-occurring sugars, like those in milk or fruit.

Stop for a moment and let that one sink in. The USDA has been producing these guidelines every five years since 1980. And yet this is the first time they’ve ever recommended restricting added sugars. All those years, yammering on and on about cutting back on red meat, fat and cholesterol, but sugar got a pass.  Meanwhile, rates of type diabetes skyrocketed in America … even among kids.

This is also the first time the committee FINALLY admitted they got it wrong about dietary cholesterol, which they now say isn’t a “nutrient of concern.” So at this rate, I suppose they’ll admit they got it wrong about artercloggingsaturatedfat! in the 2050 guidelines. But for now, they still recommend limiting saturated fat to no more than 10% of calories … which happens to be the same limit they put on added sugars. So in the minds of committee, added sugars and naturally occurring saturated fats are equally dangerous.  Yeah, that’s science-based stuff there.

I believe Nina Teicholz, author of the terrific book The Big Fat Surprise, summed up the new guidelines pretty well:

With the exception of a cap on sugar, these DGAs are virtually identical to those of the past 35 years, during which time obesity and diabetes have skyrocketed. Given the same advice, it’s not clear why we should expect different outcomes, especially when consumption data shows that over the past decades, Americans have, in fact, followed USDA advice, cutting back on butter by 14%, whole milk by 73%, and red meat by 17%, while increasing consumption of grains by 41% and oils by more than 90%.

Due to high-level concern about the failure of our nutrition policy to improve health, Congress recently mandated the first-ever peer review of the Guidelines, by the National Academy of Medicine. This is a critical first step towards ensuring that our nation’s policy is indeed based on rigorous science.

I have one minor disagreement with Teicholz: I’m not convinced mandatory peer review will make much of a difference.  A better first step (and last step) would be to get the USDA out of the nutrition-advice business completely.  After all, we’re talking about a federal government that has demonstrated over and over that it possesses something akin to a reverse Midas touch:  nearly everything it touches turns into @#$%.

These guidelines are no exception.

49 Responses to “New USDA Dietary Guidlines Are (Mostly) The Same Old Nonsense”
  1. Bryan Harris says:

    I sort of see this as a step in the right direction. If indeed they are basically handing out nonsense recommendations that no single group agrees with, then they are therefore saying to the American Public: “We admit we don’t know. We give up. Why don’t you just make up your own mind?” So in a way they may be giving us back some choice or freedom in our values and preferences (as that guy in your documentary might say).

    Now if that part of our taxes that funds their salaries were spent on something worthwhile (very unlikely), that would be another step in the right direction.

  2. robert says:

    Someone once said something witty about dog poop, sugar and palatability. It seems The USDA is in the know as well.

    If my memory doesn’t fool me, some of the Hershey’s chocolate bars had quite a strange texture. These days we don’t eat this stuff anymore, naturally.

  3. “I believe Nina Teicholz, author the terrific book” missing word.

  4. Woalter Bushell says:

    Basically same old, same old. Notice “added sugars” a void concept, because fruit juice is basically sugar and water more or less like cocaacola which is not coke. Used to be and I await the return to the original formula.

    Champagne don’t make me lazy, cocaine don’t drive me crazy, ain’t nobodies dirty business but my own.

  5. Dianne says:


  6. Mike says:

    I happened across one of Katz’s posts on Pulse (Linkedin). He is a ginormous fucktard. I could say more but that pretty well sums it up.

  7. Desmond says:

    I must disagree with your opinion of the USDA: they are very effective at their missions. Unfortunately, their missions are to increase markets for grains and soy, and to teach large scale meat producers to fatten their livestock quickly. It is little wonder they are also fatten people quickly.

    It is HHS that should be ashamed, but my guess is they are ordered to bless whatever the USDA comes up with.

    I do agree with you on the “peer review” being smoke and mirrors.

    • Tom Naughton says:

      Yup, unfortunately they’re good at their primary mission, which is why they should never have been giving the secondary mission of handing out dietary advice.

  8. Firebird says:

    I intend to eat MORE meat in 2016. So much in fact, that I am looking into buying a pressure cooker so I can cook larger volumes in shorter time! that can be construed as a hint from anybody who owns one what to recommend. 😉

  9. Bob Niland says:

    Perhaps the most encouraging thing about DGA’15 is the increasing number of people that are unhappy with it; from today’s inbox:

    We’re getting closer to the point where no one takes it seriously, which is exactly the level of respect it merits.

    I’m no fan of Statinator-in-Chief Nissen, but in that article he makes solid points on the rampant cognitive dissonance.

    A further smackdown from that MPT article:
    «Another frontal assault on the guidelines appeared in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings in which the authors wrote that “in the 2015 DGAC [Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee] report, the distinction between correlation and causation is either ignored or dismissed. For example, the words association, associated, and relationship are used more than 900 times in the 571-page DGAC text, whereas the words causal and causality are used fewer than 30 times and not once to describe an actual causal diet-health relationship.”»

    • Tom Naughton says:

      I think that’s the most encouraging development indeed. I’ve been saying for years that my goal isn’t to change the USDA’s advice; it’s to convince people to ignore that advice. Thanks to the Wisdom of Crowds effect, I believe that’s where we’re headed.

      • Mike says:

        The key word is ‘advice’. When states start telling day cares that they can’t feed kids whole milk because of the USDA guidelines, or school lunch funding has to conform to USDA guidelines, the line into exercise of authority has been crossed.

  10. Mel says:

    The UK dietary guidelines tend to copy the american ones pretty exactly – but the number of Drs prepared to move away from the official line is increasing. Michael Mosley, celebrity doctor and inventor of the 5:2 diet, massively influential in the UK, has a new book coming out, The Blood Sugar Diet, which aims to reverse type 2 diabetes, based on science coming out of Newcastle University. The key to the diet? Low calorie, low carb.

    Its gone from today’s updated version of the article, but yesterday he was talking about the disgust he felt seeing type 2 diabetes patients offered white toast or cornflakes for breakfast, and who the recommendationsto eat starchy carbs are wrong. Hopefully in the UK we will start to see diabetics ditching the official advice in favour of something more effective.

    • Tom Naughton says:

      Makes me curious why the updated version deleted his comments about toast and cornflakes. Still good news, though.

  11. Charles N. Greggo says:

    Hey Tom, love your stuff! I want to use the same food log program that you used. Was it Excel or something different? Thanks in advance!

    • Tom Naughton says:

      It was a little Access database I built for myself at the time. I don’t have it anymore, but I’m pretty sure there are online programs that do essentially the same thing.

  12. Galina L. says:

    ,,I like the changes in a dietary guidelines – it may allow the use of normal dairy products for school lunches. At least some usefulness. More fat and less sugar is a good news for school cafeterias.

  13. tom k says:

    My wife took my 13 year old daughter to the Dr. for a check up yesterday. We keep her wheat and sugar intake to a minimal amount. Most of our meals are home cooked made with meats and vegetables cooked in coconut oil , butter , bacon fat or beef lard. We must have done wrong by not following the USDA guidelines. She is 5’6.5 and weighs 128 and that puts her at a BMI 20. NORMAL! LOL thank God i found your movie on netflix years back , Thank You!
    Oh the USDA needs a good theme song. I vote for (dare to be stupid) by weird Al Yankovic.

  14. Becky D says:

    At least alternative theories are finally filtering into mainstream awareness. We’ll see what the producers let happen, but at the moment the “eat fat to lose fat” Wild Diet on My Diet Is Better Than Yours is doing pretty well.
    Can’t believe I’m mentioning a reality show, but there’s not much more mainstream than that! Plus, the vegan trainer was pretty entertaining with some of the nuttier elements of her contestant’s program.

  15. Mike says:

    To offer a teeny bit of defense to the USDA, the food pyramid always counted sugar as bad, even if it didn’t see fruit juice in the same light. It isn’t quite true that we’ve gotten sicker on the food pyramid, we’ve gotten sicker eating a great deal more sugar and corn syrup than the food pyramid recommendation. At least the USDA is is finally making a stronger statement about sugar. I wonder if the USDA is trying to slowly shift the guidelines in hopes that we won’t notice what they used to be and blame the government for metabolic syndrome.

    • Tom Naughton says:

      I have to reject your teeny bit of defense. It’s the USDA that forbids whole milk in schools, but allows chocolate skim milk, which is flavored with corn syrup. Yes, they listed sugar under “use sparingly,” but then pushed sugary milk into schools. They also recommended 6-11 servings per day of grains. Their advice and requirements are a big part of the reason people consumed so many more carbs. And let’s not forget whose programs subsidized corn and made that corn syrup so cheap.

      • j says:

        The food pyramid could actually be beneficial…just discard the bottom section (the part with 6-11 grains servings)…

        Thatll leave a decent pyramid of veggies, fruits, and meats that can be upped serving-wise..and some dairy and fats..


      • Mike says:

        I agree about the milk and the corn subsidies.

        I’m less certain about the non-sugar carbs.

        Where would we be if we had eaten those carbs but actually not eaten loads of sugar and corn syrup? I eat ketogenic now but that may only be desirable because of the fructose load in what I used to eat. I know that you have written that the Naughtons eat more carbs than keto levels.

        Dr. Lustig seems to think that Asia was doing fine with carbs before they piled on the sugar. I also wonder if genetic adapations come into play with cultures that have had agriculture longer.

        • Tom Naughton says:

          I don’t think eating 6-11 servings per day of grain is a good idea, even if you don’t load up on sugar. In her excellent book “Death By Food Pyramid,” Denise Minger wrote about a government scientist who was appointed to write dietary recommendations in the 1970s. She called for two servings of starch per day. When she saw her work mangled into what became the Food Pyramid, she complained that eating all that grain could turn us into a nation of fat diabetics. She was, of course, ignored. The USDA had already made up its mind.

  16. Bob Niland says:

    re: “Choices can include processed meats and processed poultry, as long as eating patterns stay within the limits for sodium, saturated fats, added sugar, and calories recommended by the new guidelines.”

    As if you needed enough to write about, the AHA has picked up the “added sugar” pennant, and is pretending to charge off into battle with it:

    For anyone mislead by the page count, here’s what it really says:

    • Tom Naughton says:

      Fine words coming from the organization that put its stamp of approval on sugary cereals as long as they were low in fat.

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