Every five years, the US Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA get together and co-release a new set of Dietary Guidelines, which generally provides the starting point for what Americans perceive as healthy eating.
In advance of the official publication, a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee convenes and makes recommendations for what updates should be made to the guidelines. The 2015 committee has just released its scientific report, i.e. its recommendations, and there’s quite a bit to digest (couldn’t help myself) in there.
There’s buzz around the committee’s re-evaluation of cholesterol, coffee, and salt (previous warnings were overblown), but, as was widely speculated, they’ve also included recommendations about eating in a more sustainable way so that future Americans will have the same healthy food options that we have now. The main point in Chapter 5: Food Sustainability and Safety, which is hugely important and exciting, is that Americans should eat a more plant-based diet and scale back on our consumption of meat and other animal-based foods.
From the Executive Summary:
The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.
It obviously remains to be seen whether this information will make its way into the final publication slated for release this fall, since of course the meat industry is already up in arms, but this really feels like the first time a national conversation is happening around the sustainability of our food supply, and in a way that’s actually including the consumers. The environmental impacts dialogue is typically focused on the farmers or other people/entities along the supply chain, but this report is stating loud and clear that individual consumer dietary choices add up to a paradigm shift in our food system. And these plant-based dietary choices are, if anything, “more health promoting” if not just as healthy as the current mainstream meat-centric diet.
I will be eagerly (and nerdily) following the developments of these recommendations over the next few months. Written comments on the scientific report will be accepted through April 8, so feel free to share your thoughts: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/. Here’s hoping the committee can stand its ground!