Every five years the U.S. Department of Agriculture revises its dietary “guidelines”. These do more than telling us what we should eat. Public schools, the army, and even Congressional cafeterias follow them. New ones will be published next year, created by a fifteen-member panel, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
“We’re about to be fed a diet of political correctness.”
Our federalized food system is a highly politicized beast, manipulated to please as many lobbies as possible. Last year we burned up nearly half of our corn to please the environmental lobby (global warming), the farm lobby (bloated corn prices) and the defense lobby (“energy security”). The only goal that this crazy policy actually achieves is to make food more expensive worldwide.
Expect more of the same from this year’s panel. We’re about to be fed a diet of political correctness. While some of the recommendations are likely to be salutary (“eat less”), others may be deadly.
Back in the day, the Guidelines recommended a lot of dairy products and meat, in no small part to encourage consumption of our enormous agricultural output in as inefficient a way as possible.
Based upon the track records of the new panelists, we can make a few predictions about what it is likely to recommend. Some are, well, pretty cheesy.
- The panel will urge frequent consumption of foods containing fish oils or their equivalents. Once the darlings of the nutrition-health complex, they don’t seem to show the cardioprotective effects that they were supposed to, judging from heart attack morbidity and mortality data. But their consumption is associated with a 44% increase in the risk of prostate cancer, especially the aggressive ones that kill men. That’s a lot of deaths and misery for no gain whatsoever. (Source: Brasky et al., 2013 Journal of the National Cancer Institute)
- The panel will recommend limiting the use of salt, because sodium increases blood pressure. That’s soooooo 20th Century! The vast majority of the population is simply insensitive to salt and—attention—restricted salt diets are now known to significantly increase the frequency of heart attacks, probably because of disturbed cardiac rhythms. (Source: Staessen et al., 2011 Journal of the American Medical Association)
- No deep-fried food please. The breakdown products in overused oils are associated with a very slight increase in prostate cancer frequency—which is dwarfed by the increase that will be caused by the committee’s likely perseveration over fish oils.
- The committee will recommend a ban of trans (partially hydrogenated) fats from all foods. One of the advisors to the panel, Sonia Angell, was Mayor Bloomberg’s henchperson in the NYC ban, resulting in impalatably soggy donuts and foods with unattractive “mouth feel”.
This last one is particularly galling. Yes, trans-fats are associated with elevated triglyceride levels, and those are associated with significant increases in heart attack prevalence. But, as is obvious from the chronic medication almost all male readers over fifty take, the dose makes the poison. An outright ban simply makes life less enjoyable.
The panel believes—quite erroneously—that any intake of trans-fat is harmful, the same way the government believes that one photon of ionizing radiation can cause a detectable increase in cancer. The entire regulatory paradigm for carcinogens and radiation is based this “linearity-no dose” threshold. It is simply wrong. Small doses of things that can be harmful in large doses often confer benefits. Think “sunlight”. The panel should be consulting with Ed Calabrese, a toxicologist at University of Massachusetts and a Cato Scholar, rather than Sonia Angell. Calabrese has examined hundreds of compounds and found this relationship in his bajillion peer-reviewed papers.
The Bloomberg experience banning large sugared drinks isn’t likely to be repeated. So, rather than having a judge tell the food police that they are out of line, they will instead recommend a tax. California already has one, so why not everyone? And just shove the revenue over to Big Agriculture, as they will complain that depressed corn sugar (fructose) demand will lower corn prices. Easy beans.
When Angell came in front of the USDA’s new committee, the Vice-Chair, Tufts University’s Alice Lichtenstein, went ga-ga, introducing Angell as “one of my heroes” because of the trans-fat and sugary drink bans. Angell repeatedly emphasized the need to “change the context to make individuals’ default decisions healthy”.
According to Mary Story, another committee member, “context” means pretty much the government gets into everything when it comes to food. Lichtenstein was actually plagiarizing Story, who recently wrote,
Our ultimate goals should be to structure neighborhoods, homes, and instutional environments so that healthy behaviors are optimal defaults.
That’s right, homes.
Yes, we haven’t heard yet exactly what the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is going to recommend, but the perceptions and emanations from the members’ histories are ominous.