American dietary guidelines must be updated


Omar Etman, Adam Fazlibegu and Tess Woosley

Fat may not be as unhealthy as once thought. A recent study showed that those who eat a diet higher in fats, excluding trans fat, have a fewer number of cardiovascular risk factors and lose more body fat than those on a low-fat diet. This is a departure from the current federal government’s nutritional guidelines, which are due to be updated in 2015. This fall, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will host public meetings and finish  its review of current scientific evidence for the new report. If the DGAC intends to publish useful, up-to-date guidelines, it must review the new evidence and drastically alter the current nutritional recommendations.

This study, which is more comprehensive than most dietary investigations, is effectively the reverse of what most Americans thought was right for their diets. Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, it drew data from 150 healthy, racially diverse men and women who followed either a strict low-carbohydrate or low-fat diet for one year. The study’s diet required participants to eat more than 40 percent of their daily calories from fat, which differs significantly from the current federal dietary guidelines. The U.S. government recommends a total fat intake of less than 30 percent of daily caloric consumption. Unlike most diet research, this study did not require participants to count their calories, and instead focused on the sources of those calories. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutritional Science and Policy at Tufts University, notes that it is easier for a person to change what they eat rather than cut down the number of calories they consume.

Low-carbohydrate diets have existed for decades. In the early 1970s, Robert Atkins introduced Americans to the idea of a high-fat, low-cholesterol diet. In response, the American Medical Association considered it to be a potential health threat, and Atkins had to argue for his diet at Congressional hearings. A low-carbohydrate diet is threatening to the medical community because the current dietary guidelines are founded on opposite principles. Both the food pyramid and myPlate, which have been taught to American students for years, argues that carbohydrates should be the basis of every healthy diet. Challenging this assumption is challenging decades of accepted scientific opinion, but the DGAC must give these new theories proper consideration.

The DGAC is the foremost authority on nutrition. Because the organization is government-run, it has an enormous ability to affect the way Americans eat. When crafting the next round of guidelines, the DGAC should adopt the findings of this recent study. Outdated guidelines benefit no one. When it comes to our health, the status quo is not good enough.

A version of this article appeared in the Sept. 22 print edition. Email them at [email protected].