Does the government issue dietary advice to help you or Big Business?
Ask for my advice on a significant health matter, and I’ll do whatever needs to be done - review old columns, seek out new research - to create a reply that’s helpful. Doing so takes more time than just typing an email.
But I don’t care. I care that you value my opinion, that the issue is serious, and you seem to be, too.
On the other hand, I hate wasting time. So if I take the time to insure my advice is spot-on and it’s dismissed, I get a bit ...
Well, you know. That coarse “P” word that makes the last sentence rhyme.
I do not explain my feelings on this matter because this recently happened to me, but because it occurred to a group of scientific and nutritional experts last December. They were asked by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHR) for input to create the document issued every five years by good old Uncle Sam and significant to your health: the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Even if you know nothing about the guidelines or have no plans to follow them, they affect your health. They help shape other governmental policies and programs, as well as how food manufacturers create new products and change old ones.
In the 2016 edition, you were advised to keep added sugars to no more than 10 percent of your daily calories. To adhere to that, someone eating 2000 calories per day (the total used for the “general nutrition advice” provided by the Daily Value percentages found on every food label with the Nutrition Facts) would consume no more than 200 of them (12.5 teaspoons) as added sugar.
Most people, though, consume significantly more, about 40 percent more than the Daily Value suggestion - 335 calories - according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Clearly, the five-years-ago advice about added sugars didn’t work. Confusingly, the new edition gives the same advice again.
I say confusingly because this advice is not - repeat, not - the recommendation in the report that the experts gave to the USDA and the HHR last summer. Based on their research, they feel Americans should drastically reduce their consumption of added sugars to 6 percent - less than half of the amount the CDC found Americans adults to be eating from 2005 to 2010.
But there’s another reason why I chose the word “confusingly.” If you read the 2021 guidelines, they seemingly support the experts’ report that was dismissed. At least they do initially. “The preponderance of evidence supports limiting intakes of added sugars ... to promote health and prevent disease.”
What comes next, however, is such a head scratcher that it should draw blood from your scalp: “The evidence reviewed since the 2015-2020 edition does not substantiate quantitative changes at this time.”
How can that be? Wouldn’t the primary “evidence reviewed” be the report provided by the commissioned experts?
Now the title of this article questions the government’s intent for keeping the added-sugar recommendation at 10 percent, but that’s not to suggest a conspiracy.
Issuing dietary recommendations in a democratic republic is like juggling a side of beef and two bananas. Both the physical health of the people and the economic health of the country have to be considered.
What’s important today is not to speculate what caused the USDA and HHR to dismiss the experts’ recommendation, but to figure out why the experts feel such a dramatic reduction in the consumption of added sugars (we’re talking 40 percent!) is best.
Maybe they were influenced by reviewing the comprehensive analysis of studies performed from 2001 to July 2016 and published in the November 2016 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine that found 97 percent of studies not funded by organizations with financial ties to the soda industry showed a clear link between sugar-sweetened soda consumption and obesity and diabetes.
Maybe they were swayed by the observational study of more than 100,000 French adults published in the July 2019 issue of BMJ that found “the consumption of sugary drinks was positively associated with the risk of overall cancer and breast cancer,” as well as the determination that a mere 3.3-ounce-a-day increase in sugary beverages increased overall cancer risk by 18 percent.
The experts would already know sugary beverages easily create weight gain because they adversely affect your body’s appetite-control mechanisms. While they quench your thirst, they don’t register in your body as calories.
That, along with the added sugars found in most processed foods - the average Americans gets more than 70 percent of added sugar consumed from store-bought stuff - has created the epidemic that had America most concerned before the pandemic.
My guess is that the experts see the abundance of added sugars in our foods as the primary reason why you see such an abundance of obesity when you’re out and about. They know that’s disastrous in the long term for both the physical health of the people and the economic health of the country.