by Tamara Scully
The “sustainability” equation has officially been disregarded by the USDA’s 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), much to the satisfaction of many players in the dairy and beef industries. The original request for “sustainability” to be included in the update to the Guidelines — which are mandated under 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act (NNMRRA) and updated every five years — was ultimately denied.
The final decision not to include sustainability concerns in the DGAs for 2015 indicated that these important issues are addressed elsewhere and fall outside of the scope of the NNMRRA mandate.
But the beef and dairy industries are also faced with concerns about saturated fats and cholesterol found in meats and dairy. While the 2015 DGAs — which will be released prior to the end of the year — encourage increased fiber and vegetable consumption, the exact role which red meat and dairy should play in the diet remains controversial.
Dr. Wayne Campbell, of the Department of Nutrition Science at Purdue University, was a member of the advisory committee (DGAC) advising those officially responsible for the 2015 update to the DGAs. Dr. Campbell presented a program at the recent Cornell Nutrition Conference, addressing the process behind the formulation of the DGAs, and the “impact it potentially has on the dairy and beef industry.”
The DGAs are jointly managed by the Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA, which switch off in leading the review. The 2015 review was led by HHS; 2020 will be led by the USDA. Each update is a lengthy process, taking over two years, Campbell said. Participants are considered “special government employees” and are not paid. Their task is to provide advice and recommendations based on in-depth scientific review. Original literature, existing reports, data analysis, food pattern modeling and more are examined in a “scientifically rigorous” process.
“This is a transparent process,” Campbell emphasized, and is not conducted secretively. Any communication between committee members was closely monitored, with all discussion needing to take place in the official public realm as a part of the documented process.
The committee’s responsibility is to “come up with questions that have the potential to have impact on Federal policy,” and provide advice and recommendation that is “not the same as the dietary guidelines,” but is meant to guide those responsible for issuing the official DGAs. The DGAS are Federal policy, and regulate “a myriad of nutrition programs throughout the country,” Campbell said.
The committee found that many Americans are at risk of chronic disease due to unhealthy eating patterns and a sedentary lifestyle. Sodium, added sugars, saturated fats, refined grains and total overall calorie consumption are causing many of these health issues. Under-consumption of vitamins A and D, as well as calcium, is also a national health concern.
“Many of the nutrients of concern are actually hidden in our diets,” Campbell said. “So few people actually follow the dietary guidelines.”
Dairy and beef
The total protein in our diets can come from sources such as red meats, or processed meats, which can have a higher saturated fat content than other protein sources. This can be a concern not only due to saturated fat, but also due to sodium hidden in some meat products containing red meat, such as burgers and sandwich meats.
Campbell spoke personally, not as a representative of the DGAC, and addressed industry-specific concerns.
“Most proteins are animal-based and red meats are still the most predominant source of proteins being recommended,” Campbell said. Better clarity on “what it really means to have lower intakes of red and processed meat,” is needed.
A lean burger or steak is a positive way to build protein in the body. But anything beyond a three or four ounce serving is not helpful for optimizing metabolism, and is simply providing excess calories and fat to the body. The body does not need to consume saturated fat, either, as it can convert as much as it needs from other nutrients.
The guidelines for consumption of red meats and processed meats is currently confusing and needs clarification, he said. Telling people to reduce consumption of red and processed meats, without defining what a desirable target amount is, and without better defining red meats separate from processed meats, is not helpful. Some red meats can be lean, and these are okay to eat in larger quantities.
“We need to separate out the difference between ‘red meat’ and ‘processed meat’,” Campbell said. The DGAC continued to use “red and processed meats” as a category because it is “embedded in the existing literature. The people who care about this need to understand where we are with this per the terminology.”
Campbell said he considers protein “one of the most important of the concerned nutrients,” because some of the population is consuming diets routinely lacking in protein.
As a nation, we under-consume dairy after age 13. The actual recommendations for dairy are three cups per day. Cheese, which can be high in sodium, is over-consumed. Non-dairy/dairy substitute products, which have risen in popularity in the American diet, are not considered dairy products, and do not provide similar nutrients as fluid milk, Campbell said.
Dairy is “still emphasized,” and is a “nutrient-rich” food source, especially when fortified dairy products are considered. Dairy does come with saturated fat concerns, and Campbell acknowledged that much of the new data on saturated fat consumption was too new for review by the committee this time around.
“We’ve actually done a very good job in the last 15-20 years to decrease saturated fat intake,” Campbell said. The overall message is not to decrease total fat intake, but to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, and low-fat dairy, as well as lean meats, has a role there, too. There is also a distinction to be made between natural and processed saturated fats, which applies to beef and dairy products, which did not get vetted during the 2015 DGA review.
The message Campbell gave to the dairy and beef industry is that the opportunity exists for new research to shed light on the controversies surrounding cholesterol and saturated fat, and their role in chronic health issues. As more epidemiological studies, particularly those randomly controlled over time, emerge, a clearer picture of these dietary elements will arise. And, with better definitions of red meats and processed meats, and clarification of the role they can safely play in the diet, the beef industry has the opportunity to showcase healthier options and products.
“There are a variety of ways people can eat a healthy diet,” Campbell said.