Is 2015 the Year of Change? A Glimpse into the Dietary Guidelines

Yesterday I had the unusual opportunity to testify before the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). It was a rainy and chilly day at the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD. There was no need to be outside, which was fine because I was inside with the 2015 DGAC and a lot of other very passionate people.

On Day 2 of Meeting 2, the public was welcome to provide oral testimony. More than 50 people testified before the DGAC as to why they felt a certain diet–or a certain food or even a certain practice–should be highlighted in (or removed from) the next go-round of Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The variety of topics was as varied as the speakers–from individuals and healthcare professionals (doctors, nurses, fellow RDs) to food industry professionals and even a celebrity (actress Marilu Henner).

There were a lot of stories from passionate people about focusing on a plant-based diet, and some people even requested that the DGAC remove recommendations to eat dairy and red meat from the 2015 DGAs. There were people asking the DGAC to remember that certain nutrients and foods (like red meat and dairy, and tea, eggs and potatoes) provide a lot of nutrients, particularly some nutrients sorely lacking in the American diet.

And, I spoke to the DGAC about seafood. Yes, I am a consulting RD with National Fisheries Institute. But, I also believe in the powers of seafood and was happy to extol those powers to the DGAC. The members of the DGAC are experts: They know that seafood is a high protein food, rich in omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA–the fatty acids that are so vital to baby brain and eye development and to heart health. But, sometimes we (including experts) get so caught up in misleading media headlines that we forget that foods are not eaten in isolation, that most foods (including fruits and vegetables) contain some degree of potential contaminant or food safety risk and that if we break it all down we could seriously paralyze ourselves and whittle our list of “safe” foods to almost nothing.

I commented to an RD friend yesterday that what was sorely missing–for me–from the numerous testimonies was the concept of including more food education in the 2015 DGAs. Food education for Americans. And, I mean simple food education… How to cook at home more often, how to get kids “cooking” at a young age, how to inspire people to choose nutrient-rich foods most of the time and save the indulgences for special occasions.

The truth is that vilified–whether fairly or unfairly vilified–foods are not going anywhere. Whether or not the 2015 DGAs exclude certain foods will mean nothing if people still don’t understand what foods are good for them and, ultimately, what to do with those foods. And, the 2015 recommendations certainly will mean nothing if people don’t follow them.

TELL US: How can the DGAs really help Americans eat and live more healthfully? I’d love to hear from you.