New Dietary Guidelines Back Plant-Based Diets to Fight Obesity

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New Dietary Guidelines Back Plant-Based Diets to Fight Obesity

From Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)

Federal Recommendations Highlight Vegetarian and Vegan Meals and Increased Fruit and Vegetable Consumption

Like previous versions, they specify foods to eat more of (e.g., fruits and vegetables), but avoid listing foods people need to eat less of (e.g., meat and cheese), apparently out of fear of upsetting food producers.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, unveiled 1/31/11, highlight the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets, drawing praise from nutrition experts at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). The new Guidelines go farther than previous federal policies in acknowledging the power of plant-based diets for health.

The Dietary Guidelines—issued by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services every five years—are the blueprint for all federal nutrition programs, including school meals. The new Guidelines devote two full pages to vegetarian and vegan nutrition, and point out that these eating patterns provide nutritional advantages and reduce obesity, heart disease, and overall mortality. Vegetarian diets may include dairy products and eggs, while vegan diets avoid all animal products.

“People who avoid meat cut their risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers, and those who also avoid dairy products and eggs are healthiest of all,” says PCRM nutrition education director Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. “It’s good to see that these diets are now part of federal policy.”

The new Guidelines resonate partially with PCRM’s own nutrition recommendations, represented graphically in The Power Plate (www.ThePowerPlate.org), and presenting whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes as dietary staples.

The Guidelines are far from perfect, however. Like previous versions, they specify foods to eat more of (e.g., fruits and vegetables), but avoid listing foods people need to eat less of (e.g., meat and cheese), apparently out of fear of upsetting food producers. Instead, the Guidelines call for limiting “cholesterol” and “saturated fat.” Similarly, while dairy products account for more than 30 percent of the saturated (“bad”) fat in the American diet, the Dietary Guidelines disguise this fat by splitting dairy products into many categories, including cheese (8.5 percent), butter (2.9 percent), whole milk (3.4 percent), reduced-fat milk (3.9 percent), dairy desserts (5.6 percent), and pizza (5.9 percent), so their contribution to ill health is harder to see.