healthy fats

Controversy Continues Over the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report

One of the biggest stories to hit nutrition newsstands this year has been the release of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) report. In a process that occurs every five years, the DGAC is tasked with scouring the literature and providing evidence-based recommendations to the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) who are then responsible for writing the actual Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Dietary Guidelines). As the scientific basis for federal nutrition policy, the Dietary Guidelines are heavily relied upon as a resource for policymakers developing federal, state and local food and nutrition programs.

The latest DGAC report has been wrought with controversy, and the country’s interest in the report is at an all-time high. In fact, the DGAC report received almost 29,000 public comments in the 75-day commenting period — up from 2,186 comments for the 2010 report.

Following suit from previous DGACs, the 2015 DGAC report recommends consuming less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fats. However, the committee indicates total fat doesn’t necessarily need to be reduced in all diets, and they instead emphasize that the types of dietary fat should be optimized. For example, unsaturated fats, such as mono- and polyunsaturated fats, should replace saturated fats in the diet.

However, that particular recommendation has recently sparked more debate. In late September, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published an article written by a journalist who claims, among other things, that the DGAC ignored scientific evidence related to saturated fat and that the recommendation to reduce its consumption, especially when the saturated fat comes from meat, is unfounded. The DGAC submitted a rapid response defending their methodology, stating that “as it pertains to saturated fat, the Committee reviewed evidence from seven systematic reviews or meta-analyses published between January 2009 and August 2014 in peer-reviewed journals, which included RCTs and/or prospective cohort studies,” affirming that the recommendation to reduce saturated fat consumption is, in fact, supported by science.

Another hot topic has been the inclusion of recommendations regarding the relationship between agriculture and food system sustainability and the food choices Americans should make. While many are in favor of this move, many others are not. Some have argued that sustainability is outside of the committee’s purview and that it is not an area of their expertise.

With regard to sustainability and other aspects of the report, the argument also has been made — including in the article mentioned above — that the scientific process and evidence the committee used to form their recommendations was not strong enough. In the aforementioned rapid response, the DGAC also defended their methodology and evidence grading, saying it was “highly rigorous” and completely consistent with how previous dietary recommendations from both national and international institutions have been made. Several prominent scientists also have come to the Committee’s defense. Although the BMJ has since published “clarifications” about the article, including about the committee’s use of National Evidence Library reviews, an official retraction or correction has not been made.

After all of this activity, it will be interesting to see what, in the end, will actually be included in the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015. And despite all of the controversy, the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 are still expected to be released by the end of the year.