Filed Under: Uncategorized

Dietary Guidelines Report: The Good and the Bad

Yesterday a government panel of scientists advising the Dietary Guidelines Committee released its final report for 2010. The federal government’s official Dietary Guidelines are revisited every five years in order to keep them current with the latest science-based nutrition and dietary research. The results brought some good news and some bad news. And as usual, the bad news is getting all the media hype.

The Good

Seafood scores remarkably well, despite activist hype about vanishingly tiny levels of contaminants like mercury. Noting the “moderate, consistent evidence” of seafood’s health benefits, the panel concludes that the benefits of consuming at least 12 ounces of seafood per week outweigh any risks: “Encouraging consumption of seafood in the US is justified, as consumption continues to be far below amounts recommended for health by the Institute of Medicine and by this Committee.” (Hear that, Oceana? We’re not eating enough fish.)

On the importance of physical activity, the scientific panel writes: “Strong, consistent evidence indicates that physically active people are at reduced risk of becoming overweight or obese. Furthermore, there is strong evidence that physically active adults who are overweight or obese experience a variety of health benefits that are generally similar to those observed in people of ideal body weight.” (Bad news for the blame-food-first crowd at CSPI.)

And the anti-meat crowd and animal rights activists might need some new talking points. The advisors report that there’s “no clear association” between animal protein and blood pressure. And the supposed meat-to-cancer link is generally dismissed as having limited evidence or, in the case of colorectal cancer, the panel notes “inconsistent positive associations.”

The Bad

The report recommends lowering daily sodium intake levels to 1,500 milligrams. As we’ve pointed out, a lot of the salt science is sketchy and it’s unknown what unintended consequences could follow using the population at large as lab rats in a salt reduction experiment. Even the panel seems to admit that they’re essentially using a shotgun instead of a scalpel. In one of (too) many news articles about this, the Des Moines Register points out: “The scientists say the at-risk population is so large … that the lower limit should be the target for the entire country.”

The base recommendation of 12 ounces of seafood per week is still too conservative in our view. Using our calculator to compare the known health benefits against hypothetical risks in different kinds of fish, the average person could consume far more than 12 ounces of most fish and not have any reason to worry.

That’s our initial take, but a lengthy public comment period (lasting at least through next month) should brings some new twists to the discussion. We’ll be watching.

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