The Case For Calling the Dietary Guidelines What They Really Are

David Katz MDCall me crazy. Or Ishmael, for that matter. I thinkDietary Guidelines for Americans” should be something vaguely like, well, oh I don’t know, maybe: guidelines for Americans. About how to eat well.

What does “dietary guidelines” make you think? Doesn’t it sound an awful lot like: guidelines for people’s diets? Doesn’t that, in turn, sound quite a bit like: here’s what we (whoever ‘we’ is) think you should eat, presumably for health? And doesn’t “guidelines” suggest “guidance” from “guides” who ought to know where they are going, suggesting that the “we” involved should qualify as such?

Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like. And if we go a step further, and call something “Dietary Guidelines for Americans”- and we don’t say “some” Americans, or Americans in food assistance programs, or Americans eating in school cafeterias- if we just simply say “for Americans”- then doesn’t it sound an awful lot like: this is what we (whoever ‘we’ is) think ALL Americans should be eating?

You bet it does.

And so my friends, we come to it: a steaming mound of misleading BS. Watch where you step.

The official “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” are not what anybody who deserves to be part of “we” thinks Americans should be eating.

The folks who DO deserve to be “we,” actual experts in nutrition and health, said exactly what THEY think Americans should be eating in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report. That report is everything its name says it is. It is about dietary guidelines, i.e., what expert “guides” recommend we all eat for better health (and sustainability). Alas, it is also merely “advisory” to the final, official guidelines.

There’s the rub. Those guidelines are put together by federal agencies, accountable to Congress, in turn accountable- or so it seems– to the highest bidder. So the official Dietary Guidelines are absolutely NOT what anyone thinks best for “Americans” to eat. Rather, they are what politicians think should be DONE with what actual experts THINK.

My plea is simply to admit that.

Call these damn things what they are: “Guidelines for What Politicians Think Americans Should Do With What Actual Experts Recommend They Eat for Health.” Or, perhaps, “Food-related Guidelines for America to Balance Corporate Profits and Public Health.” I’m not sure what best to call them, although I have taken a stab at it here. I just know what they are called now is, in a word: wrong.

Please help me confront this, in two ways. FIRST, please sign my petition to change the name from the flagrantly false advertising now in place. SECOND, please fill up the comment section here with your suggestions: given what they really are, what should the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” actually be called? (Be polite; this is a family show.) Thank you!

You may be wondering why this matters. Well, for one thing- truth in advertising matters, and false advertising is supposed to be against the law. And calling what we wound up with “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” is, simply, false advertising.

For another, the name implies that this is, in essence, just a grown up version of the original advisory committee report. That allows critics, whatever their motives, to tarnish the reputations and trustworthiness of real experts whenever they assault the reliability of the government and its conflicting motives.

It goes one step further: critics routinely mistake the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for the “government,” whether because of actual ignorance on their part, or willful neglect of the distinction. Either way, names suggesting that theDietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report and the official Dietary Guidelines are more alike than different are conducive to just such distortions. Played out, it causes the public to distrust nutrition authorities, the legitimate along with the pretenders, and to ignore guidance that is actually worthy as such. The winners here? Big Food, who get to keep selling multicolored marshmallows as part of a complete breakfast, and to pretend that Snackwell cookies were ever recommended by anybody.

False advertising propagates distrust at best, disgust at worst. In such a world, actual expertise is killed, and everyone cooks up a toxic batch of opinion stew. Eat it at your own risk.

Let’s win this one, folks; for ourselves and our families; for the simple sake of what’s true, and honest, and right.

You can call me Ishmael. That doesn’t make it so.

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  1. Too true. The guidelines on guidelines: they are to be viewed with extreme caution.

    They are almost the work of politicized committees and heavy lobbying.

    Although there are exceptions …