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U.S. diet guidelines bypass scientific advice to cut sugar and alcohol

Dismissing the advice of its science advisers, the federal government has released new dietary recommendations that sound like a familiar nutritional refrain, advising Americans to “make every bite count” while rejecting expert recommendations to dramatically reduce fat. consumption of sugar and alcoholic beverages.

The “Diet Guidelines for Americans” are updated every five years, and the latest iteration came on Tuesday, ten months after the start of a pandemic that posed a historic threat to the health of Americans. Confined to their homes, even those who have dodged the coronavirus itself drink more and gain weight, a phenomenon often referred to as “quarantine 15”.

Dietary guidelines impact the eating habits of Americans, influencing food stamp policies and school lunch menus, and indirectly affecting how food manufacturers formulate their products.

But the latest guidelines do not address the current pandemic and, according to critics, the new scientific consensus on the need to adopt diets that reduce food insecurity and chronic disease. Climate change is not in the advice, which does not address sustainability or greenhouse gas emissions, both of which are intimately linked to modern food production.

A report released by a science advisory committee last summer recommended that the guidelines encourage Americans to dramatically reduce their intake of added sugars in drinks and food to 6% of daily calories, from the current recommended 10%.

The high rates of overweight and obesity in the United States are linked to serious chronic health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, the panel noted; the conditions also increase the risk of developing serious illness from Covid-19.

The committee also called for limiting daily alcohol intake to one drink per day for men, making it clear that consuming larger amounts of alcohol is associated, on average, with an increased risk of death, compared to lower consumption. But the current recommendation remains one drink per day for women and two for men.

Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services officials have rejected both the sugar and alcohol caps.

Perhaps confusingly, the guidelines say that “the preponderance of evidence supports limiting intakes of added sugars and alcoholic beverages to promote health and prevent disease; however, the evidence reviewed since the 2015-2020 edition does not support quantitative changes at this time. “

The new guidelines say for the first time that children under the age of 2 should avoid consuming added sugars, which are found in many grains and drinks.

The main sources of added sugars in the American diet are sugary drinks – including sodas, as well as sweetened coffees and teas – desserts, snacks, candy, and breakfast cereals and bars. Most Americans even exceed the benchmark by 10%; sugars make up 13 percent of daily calories, on average.

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Critics were disappointed that federal agencies ignored the recommendations of the science advisory committee. “I’m stunned by all of this,” said Marion Nestle, professor emeritus of nutritional and dietary studies at New York University and author of several books on government dietary guidelines.

“Despite repeated claims that the guidelines are science-based, the Trump agencies ignored the recommendation of the scientific committee they appointed, and instead went back on the recommendation of previous guidelines,” she said.

The composition of the feed advisory committees sparked controversy earlier this year, as many experts had ties to the beef and dairy industries. Yet scientists went further in their advice than previous committees had done, especially with recommendations to limit sugar and alcohol, Dr Nestlé said.

“These were big changes, and they got all the attention when the report came out last summer for very good reasons – and they were ignored in the final report,” Dr Nestle said.

“The report was presented as based on science – they used the word science a few times and made a big point about it,” she added. “But they ignored the scientific committee they appointed, which I found amazing.

In other respects, the new guidelines are consistent with previous federal recommendations. Americans are encouraged to eat healthier foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seafood, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, as well as meat and poultry. lean.

The guidelines urge the country to consume less sugar, saturated fat, sodium and alcohol, and limit calorie intake.

For the first time, the guidelines take a “whole life approach”, attempting to outline general advice for pregnant and lactating adults and for children under 2 years of age.

One of the recommendations for pregnant women, those who are about to become pregnant, and those who are breastfeeding is to eat enough seafood and fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids but low in methylmercury, which may result in adverse effects on the development of the fetus. This diet has been linked to healthier pregnancies and better cognitive development in children.

The new guidelines focus on the health benefits of breastfeeding, which has been linked to lower risks of obesity, type 1 diabetes and asthma in children. Foods that are potential allergens, like eggs and peanuts, should be introduced in the first year of life – after four months of age – to reduce the risk of developing allergies.

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