UNIT: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015
Issue: Will the Government's Dietary Guidance Improve Health?
Yes: 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, from "Executive Summary," Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (2015)
No: Adele Hite, from "Healthy Nation Coalition’s Letter to the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture Regarding the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee," Healthy Nation Coalition (2015)
The 2015 DGAC acknowledges that the average American has not followed dietary recommendations to reduce consumption of saturated fat, sodium, and sugar and continues to recommend for reductions in the three nutrients to improve health in Americans. They also stress the importance of eating an overall healthy diet and support food-based dietary guidelines with emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Adele Hite believes that the DGAC report will “perpetuate the same ineffective federal nutrition guidance that has persisted for nearly four decades, but has not achieved positive health outcomes for the American public.” He cites studies that claim reductions in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, while increasing starch and vegetable oils actually increase the risk for chronic diseases. Hite, the Healthy Nation Coalition director and co-founder, claims that “Millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on policies and practices related to guidance whose scientific foundation has yet to be established.”
Issue: Are the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Based on Sound Science?
Yes: Barbara E. Millen, from "Part C. Methodology" and “Appendix E-4 NHANES Data Used in DGAC Data Analyses,” Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (2015)
No: Edward Archer, Gregory A. Hand, and Steven N. Blair, from "Validity of U.S. Nutritional Surveillance: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Caloric Energy Intake Data, 1971–2010," PLoS One (2013)
The 2015 DGAC titled their report as being “Scientific” yet acknowledge that most food and nutrient intakes used to formulate the report are based on 24-hour recalls from the NHANES and WWEIA data. The DGAC also point out that the “strengths and shortcomings of these dietary assessment methods have been discussed over time and that no assessment method is perfect.” Archer and colleagues criticize the methods used by NHANES to collect dietary data and question the validity of the data collected using the 24-hour recall method. They validated the self-reported energy intakes of over 60,000 NHANES participants and found that the majority of people underreport energy intake and consider the NHANES energy intake data physically implausible.
Issue: Should We Eat Less Saturated Fat?
Yes: Barbara E. Millen, from "Part D. Chapter 6: Cross-Cutting Topics of Public Health Importance: Saturated Fat," Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (2015)
No: Richard A. Passwater, from "An Interview with Professor Fred A. Kummerow, Ph.D., Cholesterol and Saturated Fats Won’t Kill You, but Trans Fat May (Parts 1 and 2)," Whole Foods Magazine (2014)
The DGAC, led by Barbara E. Millen, followed the lead of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology and recommend eating less saturated fat. It concludes there is “strong and consistent” evidence that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat reduces risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary mortality and only “limited evidence” that replacing saturated with monounsaturated fats is beneficial. Richard A. Passwater interviews biochemist Fred Kummerow, who at 100 years of age reports that he eats one egg, uses real butter, and drinks three glasses of whole milk each day. He says that “saturated fats are heart neutral and have no effect on cholesterol/HDL ratio or heart disease. They do provide calories, though, and should not be overdone in terms of daily calories.”
Issue: Should We Eat Less Added Sugars?
Yes: Barbara E. Millen, from "Part D. Chapter 6: Cross-Cutting Topics of Public Health Importance: Added Sugars and Low-Calorie Sweeteners," Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (2015)
No: Andrew C. Briscoe III and P. Courtney Gaine, from "The Sugar Association’s Letter Written in Response to Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee," The Sugar Association (2015)
The DGAC concludes that there is strong evidence that diets high in added sugars are associated with overweight, obesity, and type 2 diabetes and moderate evidence that sugars are linked to dental caries, hypertension, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. They call for an upper limit (UL) of 10 percent of energy to come from added sugars in the diet. They also recommend that additional studies need to be conducted on the roles of sugars and various health conditions. The Sugar Association, whose mission is to “monitor nutrition science . . . to provide science-based information . . . and to ensure that Federal nutrition and food policy regarding sugar is based on the preponderance of scientific evidence,” asks the Secretaries of HHS and USDA to continue the same advice about added sugars that was in the 2010 DGA. The 2010 advice is to simply reduce intake of calories from added sugars and limit refined grains that contain added sugars, without a specific upper limit recommendation based on the percent of energy.
UNIT: Nutrition and Health
Issue: Can an Overemphasis on Eating Healthy Become Unhealthy?
Yes: Lindsey Getz, from "Orthorexia: When Eating Healthy Becomes an Unhealthy Obsession," Today’s Dietitian (2009)
No: Chris Woolston, from "What's Wrong with the American Diet?" Consumer Health Interactive (2009)
Writer Lindsey Getz describes “orthorexia” as the condition that makes a person strive for a perfect diet. People with orthorexia avoid sugar, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and anything they believe is “unhealthy” and take pride in being in total control of the foods they eat. Health and medical writer Chris Woolston believes the typical American diet is excessive in calories, fat, and sugar. He says we would be much healthier if we ate more “fish, poultry, cruciferous vegetables (i.e., cabbage and broccoli), greens, tomatoes, legumes, fresh fruits, and whole grains.” He also believes we should “skimp on fatty or calorie-rich foods such as red meats, eggs, high-fat dairy products, French fries, pizza, mayonnaise, candy, and desserts.”
Issue: Does a Diet High in Fructose Increase Body Fat?
Yes: Joseph Mercola, from "This Harmful Food Product Is Changing Its Name—Don't Get Swindled," Mercola (2010)
No: Corn Refiners Association, from "Questions & Answers About High Fructose Corn Syrup," Sweet Surprise (2010)
Osteopathic physician Joseph Mercola considers that HFCS is more deadly than sugar and explains how the body converts fructose to fat. He accuses the Corn Refiners Association of trying to convince us that their product is equal to table sugar. The Corn Refiners Association claims that HFCS has no adverse health effect and is the same as sucrose and honey. They also include the many benefits that HFCS provides to food.
Issue: Do Americans Need Vitamin D Supplements?
Yes: Jane Brody, from "What Do You Lack? Probably Vitamin D," The New York Times (2010)
No: Institute of Medicine, from "Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D," Institute of Medicine (2010)
Best-selling author Jane Brody says that a huge part of the population is deficient in vitamin D and studies indicate that deficiency increases risk of cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and a host of other conditions. She also reports that the “experts” recommend a supplement of 1000 to 2000 IU each day. The 14-member committee appointed by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences to establish the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) disagrees. After reviewing over 1000 studies and listening to testimonies from scientists and other stakeholders, the committee set the RDA for people up to age 70 years at 600 IU and at 800 IU for those over age 70. They conclude that few people are deficient in vitamin D and the only health benefit is the vitamin’s role in bone health.
Issue: Does Coconut Oil Provide Health Benefits?
Yes: The Coconut Research Center, from "The Coconut Oil Miracle: Where Is the Evidence?" Coconut Research Center (2015)
No: William A. Correll, from "FDA Warning Letter to Carrington Farms," Food and Drug Administration (2015)
Authors of the Coconut Research Center website boast of the various health benefits of coconut oil related to seizures, dementia, ALS, and cardiovascular disease. They describe the number of studies available through a PubMed search that support the health benefits of coconut oil and the medium-chain fatty acids found in the oil. After reviewing claims that Carrington Farms includes on the labels of coconut oil, William Correll, FDA Director Office of Compliance, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, issues a warning letter to the company pointing out the therapeutic claims on their website about coconut oil classify it as a drug, not a food, and points out other violations on the labels.
Issue: Should Physicians Use BMI to Assess Overall Health?
Yes: Jeremy Singer-Vine, from "Beyond BMI: Why Doctors Won't Stop Using an Outdated Measure for Obesity," Slate (2009)
No: Keith Devlin, from "Do You Believe in Fairies, Unicorns, or the BMI?” Devlin's Angle (2009)
Journalist Jeremy Singer-Vine points out “the circumference around a person’s waist provides a much more accurate reading of his or her abdominal fat and risk for disease than BMI.” He also acknowledges that waist measurements require slightly more time and training than it takes to record a BMI; however, because BMI is cheap and easy to use, physicians and the medical community will continue using it. Mathematician Keith Devlin, who is labeled as “overweight” by his physician because his BMI is 25.1, despite his 32 inch waist, considers that BMI is “numerological nonsense.” While he applauds the knowledge that physicians have about the human body and health issues, he feels that the mathematics behind the BMI calculations are used irresponsibly and says BMI should not be used in medical practice. He calls for mathematicians to demand responsible use of math.
UNIT: Our Food Supply
Issue: Should All Trans Fat Be Banned in Processed Foods?
Yes: Food and Drug Administration, from "Final Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils," Food and Drug Administration (2015)
No: The Grocery Manufacturers Association, from "A Petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (PHOs)," Center for Science in the Public Interest (2015)
In June 2015, the Food and Drug Administration issued the final determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are no longer on the GRAS list because they are not “generally considered as safe.” In effect, this means that trans fats are banned from foods because PHOs are the main source of trans fat. The FDA announced that PHOs must be removed from processed foods by June 2018. The Grocery Manufacturers Association filed a detailed petition outlining the safety of PHOs and requesting that low levels of PHOs be allowed in certain processed foods.
Issue: Are Organic Foods Better Than Conventional Foods?
Yes: Ed Hamer and Mark Anslow, from "10 Reasons Why Organic Can Feed the World," The Ecologist (2008)
No: Mark Bittman, from "Eating Food That's Better for You, Organic or Not," The New York Times (2009)
Ed Hamer and Mark Anslow indicate that organically produced foods use less energy, water, and pesticides and produce less pollution while producing foods that taste better and contain more nutrients. Mark Bittman says that eating organically offers no guarantee of eating well, healthfully, sanely, even ethically. He points out that people may feel better about eating an organic Oreo than a conventional Oreo, and sides with Marion Nestle who says “Organic junk food is still junk food.”
Issue: Does the World Need Genetically Modified Foods?
Yes: William Saletan, from "Unhealthy Fixation: The War against Genetically Modified Organisms Is Full of Fearmongering, Errors, and Fraud. Labeling Them Will Not Make You Safer," Slate (2015)
No: Claire Robinson, from "Lessons in Critical Thinking and William Saletan—Part 1," GMWatch (2015)
William Saletan defends biotechnology used in genetically modifying foods and believes they bring many advantages and help ensure a safe food supply. He says the case AGAINST genetic modification is full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. GMWatch editor Claire Robinson, and co-author of the free online book GM Myths and Truths, points out the fallacies of Saletan’s defense of GM foods in her rebuttal to his article. She grades his “critical thinking in which Saletan gets a big “F” for “Fail.”
Issue: Are Probiotics and Prebiotics Beneficial in Promoting Health?
Yes: Anneli Rufus, from "Poop Is the Most Important Indicator of Your Health," AlterNet (2010)
No: Matt Wood, from "Do Probiotics Work?" Science Life (2014)
Journalist Anneli Rufus describes how chemicals added to today’s food supply destroy the good bacteria (probiotics) and various ways to restore the bacteria to the body. She also encourages us to start looking for prebiotic-fortified foods, because it is hard to get an adequate amount from foods. Matt Wood discusses what the scientific studies show about the two biotics but points out some negative effects of prebiotics and the short list of probiotics shown to actually be beneficial to health.
Issue: Is Modern Wheat Unhealthy?
Yes: Kris Gunnars, from "Modern Wheat—Old Diet Staple Turned into a Modern Health Nightmare," Authority Nutrition (2014)
No: Donald D. Kasarda, from "Can an Increase in Celiac Disease Be Attributed to an Increase in the Gluten Content of Wheat as a Consequence of Wheat Breeding?" Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (2013)
Kris Gunnars claims that there are profound genetic changes in modern wheat and that it is processed differently than wheat grown in earlier times. He describes how the new wheat is the root of a variety of health problems. Cereal chemist Donald Kasarda reports that today’s wheat has the same level of protein and gluten it had hundreds of years ago and believes modern wheat is not the cause of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Issue: Should Infant Formulas Contain Synthetic ARA and DHA?
Yes: Haley C. Stevens and Mardi K. Mountford, from "Infant Formula and DHA/ARA," International Formula Council (IFC) (2008)
No: Ari LeVaux, from "Dangerous Hype: Infant Formula Companies Claim They Can Make Babies 'Smarter'," AlterNet (2009)
Haley Stevens and Mardi Mountford, representing the International Formula Council (IFC), point out “the available evidence strongly supports benefits of adding DHA and ARA to infant formula.” They point out that “a large database exists concerning not only the safety but also the efficacy of infant formula containing both ARA and DHA. These facts, together, support the addition of both ARA and DHA when LC-PUFAs [long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids] are added to formula.” Ari LeVaux is more skeptical. He says the oils are produced from lab-grown algae and fungi and extracted with the neurotoxin hexane. He also is concerned that some “parents and medical professionals believe these additives are causing severe reactions in some babies, and it has been repeatedly shown that taking affected babies off DHA/ARA formula makes the problems go away almost immediately.”
UNIT: Nutrition and Food Policy
Issue: Should Government Control Sodium Levels in the Food Supply?
Yes: Institute of Medicine, from "Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States: Brief Report," Institute of Medicine (2010)
No: Michael Moss, from "The Hard Sell on Salt," The New York Times (2010)
The Institute of Medicine’s report on sodium recommends for the FDA to set mandatory national standards for the sodium content of foods and require the food industry (including manufacturers and restaurants) to gradually lower the amount of sodium they add to processed foods and prepared meals. Writer Michael Moss describes the numerous problems that food giants such as Kellogg, Frito-Lay, and Kraft claim to face if they attempt to lower sodium in the foods they make.
Issue: Should Government Levy a “Fat Tax”?
Yes: Kelly D. Brownell, et al., from "The Public Health and Economic Benefits of Taxing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages," The New England Journal of Medicine (2009)
No: Daniel Engber, from "Let Them Drink Water! What a Fat Tax Really Means for America," Slate (2009)
Kelly Brownell and colleagues propose a “fat tax” targeting sugar-sweetened beverages. They feel a tax will decrease the amount of sugary drinks people consume and ultimately help reduce obesity. They also suggest that the tax has the “potential to generate substantial revenue” to help fund health-related initiatives. Daniel Engber disagrees with a fat tax on sugary beverages since it will impact poor, nonwhite people most severely and they would be deprived of the pleasures of palatable foods. He says that the poor would be forced to “drink from the faucet” while the more affluent will sip exotic beverages such as POM Wonderful, at about $5 a pop.
Issue: Can Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” Initiative Halt Childhood Obesity?
Yes: White House Press Release, from "First Lady Michelle Obama Launches Let's Move: America's Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids," (2010)
No: Michele Simon, from "Michelle Obama's Let's Move--Will it Move Industry?" AlterNet (2010)
First Lady Michelle Obama says that the Let’s Move! campaign can correct the health problems of the upcoming generation and realizes that the problem cannot be solved overnight. She thinks that “with everyone working together, it can be solved.” The “first ever” Task Force on Childhood Obesity was formed to help implement the campaign. Public health attorney Michelle Simon claims that Let’s Move! is just another task force and there is more talk than action. She questions if it’s realistic to be able to reverse the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic in a generation.
Issue: Do Pesticides Cause Birth Defects and Other Health Problems?
Yes: Christopher Pala, from "Pesticides in Paradise: Hawaii's Spike in Birth Defects Puts Focus on GM Crops," The Guardian (2015)
No: Environmental Protection Agency, from "Food and Pesticides," (2015)
Christopher Pala reports an increase in birth defects and pediatric morbidity in areas of Hawaii where high levels of pesticides are used for testing growth of GMO corn. He also describes the steps some Hawaiians are taking to restrict the testing of pesticides in Hawaii. The Environmental Protection Agency claims that American agricultural products are rigorously tested and the pesticide residue levels cause no health problems, especially among children.