Thanks to the FDA, food labels are about to get even more misleading. Action Alert!
Consumers beware: the FDA is on a crusade to make you healthier! This is undoubtedly a noble goal, but the FDA and the federal government have proven completely incapable of providing sound advice about diet and nutrition to Americans. The FDA has released a draft guidance to inform food companies about how they should make “dietary guidance statements” on food labels. The whole purpose of the guidance is to bring food labels into closer alignment with the recommendations contained in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans—a document that is full of outdated and incorrect advice. This guidance will result in food labels that do not provide us with an accurate picture of which foods are healthy and not.
The agency explains in the guidance that its goal is “to improve dietary patterns in the United States to help reduce the burden of nutrition-related chronic diseases and advance health equity.” Towards that end, the FDA reminds us that they have proposed a definition of “healthy” to better inform consumers about healthy eating patterns (more on this below). The use of dietary guidance statements is another tool to increase the information at consumers’ disposal to make healthier food choices. Dietary guidance statements include things like “Eat leafy green vegetables as part of a nutritious dietary pattern,” or “Make half your grains whole grain.” The FDA explains to food companies that “consensus reports” from government bodies—like the Dietary Guidelines—can form the basis of dietary guidance statements.
This guidance helps to codify the problematic U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines. We’ve analyzed the problems with the government’s recommendations in previous coverage:
- Added sugar. The government recommends that Americans consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars. But why is the government recommending any added sugar at all? Integrative doctors or nutrition professionals will advise patients (in most cases) to strictly limit their sugar intake, and to eliminate added sugar completely.
- Saturated fats. Like added sugars, the Dietary Guidelines tell us to limit calories from saturated fat to 10 percent of total calories per day. The claim that saturated fat is a risk to heart health has been debunked for a long time. Historically, the claim has been an alleged link to heart disease. However, more recent evidence shows that saturated fat is not, in fact, linked to heart disease. Rather, saturated fat has been proven to have a number of health benefits, including improved cardiovascular risk factors and liver health, stronger bones, healthy lungs and brain, proper nerve signaling, and a strong immune system. Some saturated fats, such as coconut oil, are considered superfoods.
- Grains. The USDA’s MyPlate guidelines recommend about 30 percent of calories come from grains, half of which they say should be whole grains. This encourages Americans to eat far too many refined grains, foods which are helping to drive the chronic disease epidemic; by contrast, ANH-International’s Food4Health Plate advises us to get 10 percent of calories from whole grains that are gluten free.
These same issues were operative when the FDA released its proposed definition of “healthy.” We noted at the time that the proposed definition allows a maximum of 2.5 grams of added sugar for specific foods like ¾ cup of yogurt, for example, or 5 percent of the daily value for added sugar. Again, the implication that we need any amount of added sugar is false and misleading due to the myriad negative health effects associated with sugar consumption. The proposed “healthy” definition also places strict limits on saturated fats to comport with the Dietary Guidelines’ recommendation of less than 10 percent of daily calories.
What this means is that foods that are healthy for you, like eggs, butter, coconut milk, etc., but high in saturated fat will be less able to communicate their health benefits to you, and foods low in saturated fat will be able to carry labeling touting their health benefits with the government’s sanction, even though the science says that low-fat is not the way to go. Similarly, certain foods with added sugar will be able to claim to be “healthy” or part of a healthy eating pattern. Considering that 1,600 Americans die every day from chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, should the government really be encouraging consumption of any added sugar?
For real advice about health and nutrition, consider looking elsewhere, such as ANH-International’s Food4Health Plate.
Action Alert! Post a comment on the FDA’s public docket pointing out the issues with the government’s diet guidelines. Please send your message immediately.