The new federal dietary guidelines released this month have generated mixed reviews. A notable change is a specific restriction on sugar intake—less than 10 percent of daily calories. Those who enjoy eggs and shellfish, high-fat nuts and avocados, coffee or an occasional alcoholic beverage can be reassured that the emphasis is on moderation and a healthy eating pattern “across the lifespan.” But critics say the guidelines don’t adequately address health and sustainability concerns related to red and processed meats. Assistant professor Lanae Joubert said the advice is one of many available tools and is open to varied interpretations.
“Perfect scientific truth about nutrition isn’t a realistic goal because our technology to measure what people actually eat is not yet available,” said Joubert, a faculty member in the School of Health and Human Performance. “So this report is based on the collective existing scientific evidence interpreted by health and nutrition experts and brought to the public via federal agencies, yet speculative in that it is not without food industry lobbying. It’s a broad overview intended for the layperson, as many of us know that the bombardment of nutrition information can be overwhelming.
“My simple advice would be to eat more fruits and vegetables of a variety of colors and you’ll be more apt to get the nutrients your body needs. I encourage people to look at food beyond the lens of nutrition. It should be pleasurable, satisfying, feed the soul and make your heart sing. Take the time to taste and fully appreciate what food does for your body.”
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended for the first time that food system sustainability be incorporated into the document, but the final version does not include any related references. Joubert co-taught a course with colleague Jacquie Medina titled “food systems and sustainability in schools and outdoor settings.” Some NMU student projects brought to light school food waste and vermiculture, or using worms to decompose organic food waste into a nutrient-rich material for plants.
“There’s a lot of buzz about the meat industry’s impact on the environment, but has anyone looked at the environmental impacts if all humans converted to herbivores?” she said. “I’m not sure if this has been examined, yet it seems we need to eat to be in balance with our environment. Research suggests we can maintain human health with the inclusion of animal meats and meat products, but we must also include in future studies what human consumption of meat does to the health of our planet. If it injures the planet, it will inevitably hurt human health.
Joubert said it is tricky to do nutrition research because it requires accurate data. Much of that is self-reported and “sometimes people aren’t honest about what they eat or they underestimate the amount. Unless someone invents a device that will accurately track what passes through our mouths, the data is based on the assumption that the information we have is true, correct and reliable.”
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is evidence-based nutrition information and dietary advice for health professionals, school officials and the general population. This tool was released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. It can be accessed at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.