We here at Sip & Savor came across this piece by New York Times columnist and food writer Mark Bittman on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) report, which made news when the committee announced that a decades-long warning on foods with cholesterol would be dropped because there was no solid evidence to back it up.
Bittman points out that the recent history of government recommendations on diet is “not pretty” and that previous advisory committees ”tracked reigning wisdom that was arguably based more on strong personalities than science.”
“The whole less fat/more carbohydrates mess — disaster is not too strong a word, since it likely contributed to the obesity and chronic disease crisis — can be attributed in large part to similarly official dietary recommendations, which in turn are the fault of agency weakness in the face of industry intransigence,” he writes.
We commend Bittman for acknowledging that some of the past recommendations issued by DGAC were not based on strong science, and the poor advice may have made public health worse rather than better. But his claim that food producers are to blame has it backwards.
It was the food industry – farrmers, growers, ranchers and food companies – that tried to shine a light on the lack of evidence that existed for issuing a warning against cholesterol and a push for discredited low-fat diets. It was the public health activists and the types of “strong personalities” Bittman derided that were the ones who lobbied for diet claims that were not borne from sound science.
Nina Teicholz, author of ““The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet,” confirmed in a recent column of her own in the New York Times that the culprit was bad science:
“For two generations, Americans ate fewer eggs and other animal products because policy makers told them that fat and cholesterol were bad for their health. Now both dogmas have been debunked in quick succession.”
“Instead of accepting that this evidence was inadequate to give sound advice, strong-willed scientists overstated the significance of their studies,” she wrote.
Food producers presented studies and scientists who argued that the evidence for the dietary advice was not there. But they were ignored. Now we see that the 2015 DGAC is advising Americans to reduce their consumption of red meat despite increasing evidence that saturated fat is not a public health threat. Bittman himself pointed this out in a March 2014 column when he wrote of a recent analysis showing “that there’s just no evidence to support the notion that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease.”
Which brings us to sugar-sweetened beverages. Bittman has said often that soft drinks with sugar are causing disease. Yet he is making the same mistake he condemns the DGAC for making on cholesterol and low-fat diets. There is no scientific proof that sugar-sweetened beverages are a unique driver of obesity or obesity-related health issues. Is it too much to ask to look at the totality of the science before condemning one nutrient or product?
If the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee doesn’t want to repeat their past mistakes, they need to look at the science and leave their personal agendas at the door.