How National Dietary Guidelines Are Made

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You may have heard that the next round of national dietary guidelines are due to come out this year. These guidelines often have important implications for government agencies, school policies, families and individuals. But just how do these important guidelines get made and approved?

The Making of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Every 5 years, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are released jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services.

As noted at ​health.gov, “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourages individuals to eat a healthful diet—one that focuses on foods and beverages that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight, promote health, and prevent chronic disease.”

First, however, appointed scientists comprising the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) must prepare a report with recommendations for the secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. These committee members systematically review the scientific literature in order to make recommendations that are based on the weight of current scientific evidence.

This scientific report is then made available to the public for written comments. (You can read the public comments that were submitted for the 2015 report here.) The 75-day comment period for the 2015 report closed on May 8, 2015.

Both the DGAC recommendations and the public comments are considered and jointly reviewed by the departments listed above, and then the final policy document is eventually published (expected later in 2015).

This final document becomes known as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Important Implications

As noted above, the dietary guidelines have wide-reaching influence across multiple arenas, including food supply, government cafeterias, school systems, agricultural production, the military, food industry formulations, restaurant recipes, and food assistance programs.

New for 2015

The 2015 guidelines, based on the recommendations of the DGAC report, are expected to lift the ban on total dietary fat, which will be a major departure from decades of limits on dietary fat, reaching as far back as 1980.

Another major revision involves the elimination of dietary cholesterol as a “nutrient of concern.” This, too, is in line with recent scientific evidence that has shown that intake of dietary cholesterol really doesn’t impact blood cholesterol levels or clinical cardiovascular disease. (Intake of unhealthy sources of saturated fat and animal protein, however, does impact these numbers.)

The new dietary guidelines are thus expected to put more of a focus on eating healthful foods that contain healthy fats—especially monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts.

For obesity prevention, the guidelines are also expected to focus on intake of more whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, beans and legumes, and dairy products; and to focus less on meat products, sugary foods and beverages, and highly processed grains (like white bread).

Souces

Mozaffarian D and Ludwig DS. Viewpoint: the 2015 US dietary guidelines: lifting the ban on total dietary fat. JAMA 313;2421-22.

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee; Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2015; http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/.

Mensink RP, Zock PL, Kester AD, Katan MB. Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;77:1145-1155.

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