Proposed nutritional guidelines add sustainability issues, in spite of Republicans’ warnings; eggs get a green light

A new draft of the federal government’s healthy eating guidelines recommends for the first time that Americans consider the “health of the planet along with the health of their hearts,” Liz Szabo reports for USA Today.

For the first time ever, the report recommends that Americans should eat less meat, especially red and processed meat, not only because it is better for their health, but also because it is better for the environment.

The report says that eating fewer animal products and more plant based foods uses less land resources, like land, water and energy, and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions, which contributes to climate change, Szabo writes.

“We need to think about a sustainable diet that’s supportable and accessible for generations to come,” Miriam Nelson, committee member and professor of nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, told Szabo. “A sustainable diet is also a very healthy diet.”

But this additional consideration is getting push back from the meat industry and members of Congress.

The meat industry has questioned why a nutrition panel is addressing sustainability concerns. The industry also disputes that meat production negatively impacts the environment, Roberto A. Ferdman reports for The Washington Post.

“If our government believes Americans should factor sustainability into their choices, guidance should come from a panel of sustainability experts that understands the complexity of the issue,” Barry Carpenter, the chief executive of the North American Meat Institute, said in a statement.

In December, members of Congress discouraged the committee from addressing sustainability, approving language that expressed “concern” that it was “considering issues outside of the nutritional focus of the panel,” and instructing them to “only include nutrition and dietary information” in the report, Roberto A. Ferdman and Peter Whoriskey reported in a separate article in the Post.

The committee has since been reprimanded and received a warning from Rep. Robert B. Aderholdt, R-Ala., chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the budget for the Agriculture Department, Ferdman and Whoriskey report.

“Chairman Aderholt is skeptical of the panel’s departure from utilizing sound science as the criteria for the guidelines,” according to Brian Rell, a spokesman, reports The Washington Post. “Politically motivated issues such as taxes on certain foods and environmental sustainability are outside their purview.”

Ferdman and Whoriskey note that numerous studies document the environmental impact of meat and refer to another article in the Post about a study published last year in the journal Climatic Change that says the average meat-eater in the U.S. is responsible for almost twice as much global warning as the average vegetarian, and close to three times that of the average vegan.

The report says that other countries, such as Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Brazil, have factored the environment into their dietary recommendations for many years.

The report is updated every five years and is used to set nutritional standards for state and federal programs such as school lunches, food stamps and programs benefiting children and pregnant women. The final report is scheduled to be released by the end of the year.

Another first in the report is the recommendation that “added sugars,” or those not naturally found in foods, be included on food labels. The report recommends healthy Americans get less than 10 percent, or roughly 12 teaspoons, of their daily calories from added sugars, but most people, depending on their BMI, should only have between 4.5 to 9.4 teaspoons a day.

In big news for egg lovers, the report has changed its recommendations on foods high in cholesterol, saying that there is no longer a need to avoid them because dietary sources of cholesterol have not been found to affect the amount of cholesterol in the blood.

Szabo notes these nutrition guidelines in the report:

  • Saturated fats: This guideline continues to suggest that only 10 percent (or 22 grams) of daily calories come from saturated fat. This can be achieved by choosing low-fat or skim milk; using vegetable oils instead of animal fats such as butter; and eating more plant based proteins, rather than meat.
  • Coffee: Healthy adults can drink up to three to five cups of coffee a day without any health risk, saying it may even reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and possibly Parkinson’s disease.
  • Aspartame: This artificial sweetener, sold as NutraSweet and Equal, is safe at the levels normally consumed, but there is “some uncertainty” about an increased risk of blood cancers in men.
  • Sodium: The recommended daily consumption of sodium is less than 2,300 milligrams, which can be largely achieved by eating less processed foods and eating home-cooked foods.
Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Dr. Steven Nissen told Melissa Healy of the Los Angeles Times that the guidelines on cholesterol did not go far enough and that the panel should have reversed the guidelines on saturated fats. He cited a 2013 report from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology that said “limits on dietary cholesterol were unnecessary” and also said that “there was no reason to curtail consumption of saturated fat.” He was also concerned about the severe restrictions of sodium, especially for heart patients, and said that the sodium restrictions should also “come under review.”

The report also says most Americans eat too few whole grains, too much saturated fat, sodium and refined sugars, and many fall short of particular nutrients, such as vitamin D, fiber, potassium and calcium.

The entire report can be found by clicking here. The public comment period runs through April 8.

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