Quality, Quantity: My Thoughts on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines


On Monday, federal regulators released Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. The 112 page report, which you can read for yourself here, is certainly not without its virtues. Americans are urged to reduce consumption of salt, solid fats, cholesterol, and proteins containing solid fats (a nice way of saying, meat). They’re urged to eat less fish that’s high in mercury, to eat more fruits and vegetables, and to be aware of the risks of diet-related chronic illness. “Nutrient density”—a concept once excluded from these guidelines—is prominent. Refined flours and sugar are emphatically discouraged, and physical activity is encouraged.

There’s no doubting the value of all of this advice, and I’m glad that the report is on target with so many of the basic necessities of healthy living and eating. At the same time, my overall feeling is that the it falls short of accomplishing anything new or fundamental for Americans and their health. Let’s face it: we’ve all been told to eat less soda and refined sugar, to seek out whole grains, to eat more vegetables, and to get off our recliners for a long time now. And our diseases of affluence are about as prevalent as ever. Clearly, it’s not enough to give consumers these basic pieces of advice. The time has come for us to talk honestly about the fact that Americans are still eating too much of the food that’s slowly ruining their health: namely, conventional meat and dairy.

In fairness, the report is pretty clear about stating that Americans should reduce consumption of fatty cuts of meat, and it also encourages them to seek out plant-based proteins. I also like the categorization of all proteins—meat and plant—together. But it recommends that Americans eat more dairy (low-fat), which is remarkable given how much of it Americans were encouraged to consume already. It even states—and this is pretty funny—that, “if you are lactose intolerant, try lactose-free milk, drink smaller amounts of milk at a time, or try fortified soy beverages.” I’m OK with the suggestion of soy milk as a dairy alternative, but really? If your body is so structurally incapable of digesting a food that eating it makes you ill, you should simply eat a little less?

It’s this attitude—go ahead and eat things that compromise your health, but eat less of them—that pervades the whole report. In fact, portion control is the main emphasis, as The New York Times rightly noted. Now as always, the federal regulators in charge of telling Americans what to eat refuse to acknowledge the fact that, so far, eating little portions of unfit food doesn’t seem to be helping anyone. For one thing, portion control is extraordinarily hard to master and maintain (even the healthiest of eaters find it challenging) and for another, there are certain foods so harmful that even small portions are inadvisable from a dietetic standpoint. This may not be true of organic, grass fed lean meats or organic, low-fat dairy foods, but it’s certainly true of processed food, conventional dairy (with its hormone and antibiotic load), and conventionally raised meat—especially fatty cuts. These foods are the foods that are making Americans sick, and eating smaller portions of them—which most Americans won’t be able to do, anyway—is not a reasonable response to their dangers.

One of the benefits of eating a plant-based diet is that it bestows a degree of freedom and safety on the consumer. No, I can’t say that being vegan or vegetarian is automatically healthy: it’s possible to live off of vegan Frankenfoods, to become a carbitarian, or to eat nothing but Twizzlers and soda. It’s likewise possible to skimp on nutrient dense foods and fall short of adequacy levels, and vegans and vegetarians have to keep an eye on iron, protein, and calcium. But if i were to compare the overall safety net afforded by a veg*n diet to the safety net afforded by an omnivore’s diet as prescribed by the 2010 guidelines, there’d  be no contest. Eating a vegan or vegetarian diet can be a little tricky at first, but it offers a basic level of protection over most diseases of affluence by drastically reducing cholesterol, excessive animal protein, and saturated fat. Eating according to the 2010 guidelines, on the other hand, is certainly feasible in a healthy way, but I’d say that it’s only a very educated consumer who’ll reap its benefits. Most consumers will not be able to impose the kind of portion control that’s needed to make this plan work.

Vegetarian and vegan diets—and especially vegan diets—aren’t inherently perfect, because all diets depend on the intelligence of the eater. But they do give us leeway to eat more generous portions and more volume without a risk of ingesting too much cholesterol or saturated fat. And the results speak for themselves: on page 45 of the report, the regulators mention that

In prospective studies of adults, compared to non-vegetarian eating patterns, vegetarian-style eating patterns have been associated with improved health outcomes—lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and lower total mortality. Several clinical trials have documented that vegetarian eating patterns lower blood pressure.

On average, vegetarians consume a lower proportion of calories from fat (particularly saturated fatty acids); fewer overall calories; and more fiber, potassium, and vitamin C than do non-vegetarians. Vegetarians generally have a lower body mass index. These characteristics and other lifestyle factors associated with a vegetarian diet may contribute to the positive health outcomes that have been identified among vegetarians.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea of portion control. It’s true that most Americans eat too much, that most restaurants serve too much, and that most of us reach into a bag of trail mix or granola with very little idea of what a reasonable serving size actually is. But it’s my belief—and the overall success of vegetarian eating patterns, coupled with the work and findings of doctors like Neal Barnard, Joel Fuhrman, and Dean Ornish seem to support it—that there is a way of eating that allows for voluminous portions, rich combinations of flavor and texture, and a maximization of nutrient density, all without the risk of heart disease, type II diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension. It is, quite simply, a plant-based diet. And I wish that this report could give more credence to that fact, or simply encourage Americans to eliminate some of the high cholesterol, fatty foods they’re so attached to, rather than eat them in smaller portions. We can talk about portion control until we’re blue in the face (and still hungry after our dinner), but until we acknowledge that it’s what we’re eating, and not how much, that’s primarily responsible for our chronic, diet-related illnesses, we’re all at a serious disadvantage.

What do you think of the new guidelines? I can’t imagine that they came as a surprise to anyone, given how tame they are. Were you excited, disappointed, or simply unsurprised when you read them?

Before I sign out for the day, a second recipe in my week of vegan Super Bowl eats. It’s not really my recipe—it was suggested to me by Robyn, and the original recipe is Kristen’s. But it’s darn tasty, and a perfect raw, vegan game day snack!

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Cheesy Vegan Nacho Chips (Serves 4, but you’ll want to make double)

Simply massage one head of washed and chopped kale with a batch of Kristen Suzanne’s Cheesy Hemp Nacho Sauce (you should use your judgment on how much sauce to use, but coat the leaves very generously). Dehydrate for about 8 hours, flipping leaves halfway through, and enjoy a crunchy, cheesy, and flavorful snack!

IMG_4568 (500x333) IMG_4574 (500x333)

I’m sure I’m not the first raw foods lover to try this recipe out!

I’ll be back tomorrow with more game day food ideas, and a new favorite raw, vegan snack.


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  1. Could you give us the temperature you used to dehydrate the kale chips for 8 hours? When I finally found Kristen’s original recipe, she suggests 2 different temperatures and nearly 2 days of dehydrating. I like your version much better! Thanks!

  2. By the way, I also love your take on portion control. For so long I have felt “terrible” because I cannot seem to find the self control to reign in my food intake. Rather than fight it, I enjoy eating low calorie, nutrient dense foods in lovely large portions. Reading your blog made me feel normal and not like some monster that just can’t stop eating! Thank you!

  3. Gena, thank you so much for your thoughtful words and insight into the Dietary Guidelines set forth. Your ideas are brilliant and you speak them in such a way that makes absolute sense. For every time I have been asked why I’m a vegan I have stumbled over my words and felt useless in explaining the benefits of a plant-based, whole foods lifestyle. But you have explained the thoughts I have in such a wonderful and brilliant way. I will now just refer everyone to your blog when they are in need of an explanation. You have explained the benefits of a vegan diet in a way I never could. Thank you!

  4. [sigh] where to begin.
    like you said, any diet depends on the intelligence and education of the eater. you cant think for another person. you cant eat for another person. and you cant make decisions for another person. so what can you do? exactly what you are doing. blog about this stuff. expose your opinions. and hope that the news spreads.
    im so glad you are joining the health care realm. like you commented above, lead by example.
    baby steps.

  5. As a Canadian, I’m sure our guidelines are similar, although I haven’t read them. I agree that just changing our portion sizes isn’t going to cut it if we truly want to become healthier people. As one person said, this really is just a band-aid on a gaping wound. It seems there needs to be some tough love, instead of just gentle suggestions for slight improvement. It certainly doesn’t help anyone who is struggling with portion control to hear an ad on the radio (as I did this afternoon), promoting a local restaurant’s all-you-can-eat chicken wings. The ad was encouraging the listener to eat as many as they possibly could. I know these ads are nothing new, but it really horrified me today to hear this blatant advertising for portion – uncontrol.

  6. Always love hearing your thoughts Gena! Food is such a complex issue- there are so many variables involved. I know you are planning on going to medical school (as am I- applying this September…eek!) so that you have the ability to blend holistic thinking with allopathic treatments. Do you ever find it frustrating getting the point across to people? I find sometimes I get angry when people say things like, “but it’s just too hard-I love that food.” To me it’s just simple- do you want to be sick or do you want to be healthy? Also, I find that just talking to someone about nutrition/giving advice can trigger my own ED. Do you ever struggle with these things? If so, how do you deal with them? Thanks! 🙂

    • Oh, I don’t get angry 🙂 I won’t make it through life as a doctor if I don’t accept right now that my job is to care first, lead by example second, and accept last.

      As for the ED stuff, tell me more! Do you mean that advice giving makes you remember dark times?

      • Very true 🙂 Thank you for that important reminder.

        And I’m not really sure…I guess it’s pretty complicated? Somehow encouraging others to make healthy choices makes me want to eat less?? I guess in my crazy head I have this idea that if I’m going to be an advocate for healthy living and helping others lose weight I need to be veryyy thin. This all rationally makes absolutely no sense, however. My mind is a little twisted…I’m working on it! (Like realllly work on it- actually typing this out just showed me how far I still need to come…)

  7. Great insights into the new guidelines, Gena! I thought many of the same things when I first read them. I was happy that a plant based diet was credited as being healthful, however disappointed at the emphasis on meat and dairy as well. I am not a vegan, but I do watch my intake very closely and do believe a plant based diet is the healthiest way to live. I hoped that with all of the recent research on a plant based diet preventing chronic diseases (umm, the china study!!) the USDA would have put more of an emphasis on plants.

    Great post!!


  8. Fantastic overview. While I don’t put a ton of stock in these guidelines for my own personal diet, I understand their importance in relation to mainstream Americans who may not be as interested in nutrition. My wish (and I realize it’s far fetched) is that one day the USDA will not have charge of these regulations. The responsibility should be assigned to an unbiased third party, if that even exists!

  9. What a thoughtful post! I am proud to be a vegetarian transitioning towards veganism and as someone in recovery from an eating disorder, I like the idea of being able to consume healthy and delicious plant-based proteins and other foods in larger quantities, as opposed to (if I were not a vegetarian) limited portion sizes of foods that are not as healthy. Also, as someone who is lactose intolerant, I find their suggestions to be completely ridiculous (except the soy suggestion).

  10. I only read your post, not the guidelines themselves.
    Portion control never worked for me either, so I do love a large plate of vegetables and being able to take my time devouring it.

    Overall, I too am one of the people who question the idea that animal products are inherently worse for you. Ethics of meat and dairy production is an important question and includes both the treatment of animals and resources spent (eg. the water spent to produce pound of beef versus pound of grain argument). But health-wise, what knowledge of biology and evolution I have makes the arguments of Paleo and Weston Price proponents very compelling to me.

    • Inga,

      I’m actually a big critic of paleo and an even bigger critic of Weston Price, but I’ve never been able to say with a straight face that I think veganism is the only way to be healthy. I simply think that it’s a more broadly reliable way to be healthy!


      • I am joining Christina in wanting to learn more about your opinion on those! I have some criticisms myself in that Paleo proponents can be heard saying that their way is the only one… but that seems to be a shortcoming of some proponents for pretty much any diet…

      • Would LOVE to hear about your thoughts on Paleo and Weston Price some time!

        Great article today. The new Guide reminds me of the Prof who ate Twinkies for a month and lost weight and claimed it doesn’t matter what you eat, just how much. I’d love to see his blood work (and belly) a few months later!

        My fave line: “Vegetarian and vegan diets—and especially vegan diets—aren’t inherently perfect, because all diets depend on the intelligence of the eater.” Love it! 🙂

  11. I couldn’t agree more about portion control. For me, it just doesn’t work. If there’s a pint of vegan ice cream in the house, it will mysteriously vanish before the day is through. The only way I have ever managed to stay healthy is to let myself eat as much as I want, but have most of that be fresh fruits and vegetables. Thanks for the thoughts!

  12. Thank you. I just totally agree all around. And I get so frustrated that people aren’t even given the information to be able to make a choice. I had no idea that veganism was good for you or that meat and dairy were bad until I read The China Study, and I considered myself a well-informed health nut!

  13. I won’t pretend I’ve looked at the guidelines, but from your summary, I think I have a good idea. I agree that quality is more important than quantity, although take it from a veteran- it’s very possible to overeat on any diet style.
    I also support your ideas about the relative health status of organic vs non-organic meat and dairy. I know that ‘organic’ labeling can be misleading, but I do think there is a big difference between factory farmed animal products and truly family-farm-raised-with-integrity. I think there is also an ethical difference, and I think it’s always best to give the information as it is and not fall into black-and-white thinking. I do think Americans could make significant change in there health by cutting back on animal products and choosing organic ones (and thereby hopefully shifting the market as well). And the most courageous will adopt vegetarian and vegan diets and keep changing minds as they lead by example.
    I agree with those who suggest that it’s the subsidies that need to change. That and school lunch- school lunch can have a huge impact on kids’ tastes and addictions as they develop.
    Really, I think we need a vegan foodporn campaign. Like, huge billboards with banana softserve, vegan pizza, kale chips, salads, etc. In mainstream America there aren’t many places to see mouthwatering health food, and I think that’s a big part of the problem. If people have access to affordable, delicious health food, and information about it’s importance for health, I do believe they’ll make much better choices. Anyone in? 🙂

  14. I’m obviously a big fan of plant-based eating, and I’d like to see more people filling their shopping carts in the produce section, and eating less meat and dairy. I agree, as a culture, we eat too much of both. BUT, I don’t think meat and dairy are nearly as bad for us (speaking from purely a health perspective) as processed starches and refined sugars. Which are the foods people really overeat. I think one can eat meat and dairy, even daily, and live to a ripe old age. My 105-year old Swiss grandfather is an example, as are his five siblings, all who lived into their late 90s. I honestly don’t think meat and dairy are the foods making us fat. Except maybe in their processed and sweetened forms (e.g. McDonald’s hamburgers, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream). I think we have to look at the biggest changes in the western diet in the last 40 years and it’s pretty clear what we’re eating more of is processed food (combinations of fat, sugar, and starch our bodies simply don’t know how to deal with).

    I was pondering the other day whether fat and sugar occur together in nature. Because it seems you can’t eat too much of one or the other, alone, without a satiety response setting in rather quickly. I can eat a lot of fruit, as in a couple pounds of cherries. I don’t do it often, maybe a few times a year, but when I do, I don’t fret much, because inevitably, there comes a point where I feel sickened, and it’s after fewer than 500 calories. With pure fat, the satiety point is much sooner. But I do notice when I combine fat and sugar (e.g. raw honey and nut butter), I have to watch my portions. (Can’t believe I’m admitting I sometimes do the portion control thing …)

    • E,

      I agree 100% about refined sugars and starches as huge culprits behind the obesity epidemic! But I’d also point out that in the last 40 years, we’ve started to eat a lot more meat and dairy than our grandmothers and fathers ever did–a point that Pollan and others have made better than I can. Your grandfather may have lived till 100 (and we have to be careful of such arguments, because I’ve also seen McDonald’s and twinkie eating chain smokers live to be very old, and people with admirable habits die young), but I’m guessing he wasn’t eating as much meat and dairy daily as we do now. The sheer amount of dairy Americans eat is astounding. And the diseases we’re talking about avoiding here are often more to more do with the results of a lifetime of saturated fat and cholesterol (i.e. heart disease and clogged arteries) than the direct results of refined carbs and sugars, though I’m aware that it often goes hand in hand (i.e. processed dessert foods), as your second point rightly suggests.


      • I know anecdotal evidence can be misleading. It’s just I know so many healthy omnivores that’s it’s hard for me to buy, outright, the health arguments against meat and dairy. Of course they are bad for us in excess, but isn’t everything except vegetables? Which actually lends credence to the “portion control” concept. Something that’s figured rather prominently in the French government’s dietary guidelines for more than a century. French mothers were actually encouraged to “underfeed.”

  15. Side note: yay, I was finally able to comment! I kept trying to comment on your blog earlier in the week about providing health care to those who need it, but it hated me and wouldn’t let me comment.

  16. I laughed at the NYT headline when I saw it earlier this week. Your post inspired me to go read the actual guidelines. Only on page 53 right now, but did you noticed that they have recommendations for how much processed soy vegetarians and vegans should eat (Table 5-3)??? Craziness.

    One of the things that bugs me about the whole “eat less” advice though is that I think it’s oversimplifying why Americans are overweight. In some ways, yes, it is about the food…Americans eat the wrong stuff…but it’s also a lot deeper than that. You can tell Americans to eat less, but you can’t take away the REASONS people eat more than they need. No guidelines CAN take care of that, so I don’t fault them, but I just think we’re banging our heads up against a wall if we stick with the “but if only people knew what to eat!” mantra. It’s the same with veganism. Just teaching people about it won’t make everyone go vegan. The issues are so much more complex than that.

  17. I put zero stock in these kind of guidelines. You can’t (and shouldn’t) regulate a behavior so personal as eating from a federal level. You CAN regulate production though, but that won’t happen because of subsidies and lobbying. The main problem with things like this is that they are totally irrelevant when you are trying to treat a patient who has no desire or will to change, or maybe who doesn’t even seek advice in the first place. Take patients admitted for vascular surgery. These people have diabetes, high chol, htn, addiction(s) and a slew of other largely nutrition-derived issues. They have developed infections, ulcers, clogged arteries, and perhaps strokes as a result of their behavior. However, they still smoke, eat poorly, and sit around all day. And now they need surgery. I would sat 30% of these people will go home, take a walk, quit smoking, and eat a piece of celery. The rest will have a failed procedure at some point down the line and come back for a revision. So guidelines can be printed and reprinted over and over, but the reason they are irrelevant is because the general population is unresponsive to them. It’s difficult enough to get a patient to switch from regular to diet coke, let alone tell them they should really stop eating meat. I vacillate between vegan and veg and I’d kill for my patients to enact these changes, but honestly they aren’t. The relevant professionals know how to recommend nutrition. What is needed instead of revisions geared toward changing the population is control of the companies who feed our nation. No change will happen until we stop force-feeding our population garbage.
    (sorry for being so jaded. vasc surg+family med totally slashed my idealism)

    • Nicole,

      Not jaded! Realistic. I too agree that we simply can’t tell people what to eat, as long as tempting foods are available. I mean, I see this even with my clients, and believe me when I say that they are, by and large, ridiculously healthy eaters.

      What I do think is that these guidelines, even if we put zero stock in them, play a huge role in school lunches and in how food gets marketed, so they’re ultimately extremely powerful (if something says “USDA approved” or “Part of a healthy diet according to USDA guidelines”), people do feel safe buying it, and more justified in their habits.

      So, I don’t know what my point is. The point is that it’s true that the gov (and even health professionals) can’t change how people eat. But if anything might play a part in grocery decisions, it’s the way this kind of stuff filters into marketing. So, worth a healthy critique, right?


    • Nicole, there was a fascinating, oft-quoted, article on this very issue in Fast Company some years ago. Even the threat of death (change your diet or you’ll die) fails to motivate more than the tiniest percentage of people. Here’s the link, it’s worth a read: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/94/open_change-or-die.html?page=0%2C0 The author does manage to zero on the key to changing behavior (hint, it’s the carrot, not the stick).

      • awesome article, thanks!
        spoiler alert:
        for those who don’t want to read it all- Dean Ornish coached people to make diet and lifestyle changes in a framework of optimism and improving ones life to experience joy:
        “The program lasted for only a year. But after three years, the study found, 77% of the patients had stuck with their lifestyle changes — and safely avoided the bypass or angioplasty surgeries that they were eligible for under their insurance coverage. And Mutual of Omaha saved around $30,000 per patient.”

  18. I’m not surprised by the food guidelines of 2010; the same message has just been repackaged for the public, while doing nothing to effect change in the relative proportion of each consumer group – ie those who eat healthy without needing public reminders, and those who choose not to in spite of them.

    Another spin on where the food industry might ideally take us: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/a-food-manifesto-for-the-future/?src=me&ref=general. I suppose this market-based approach would make crappy food less accessible, but I still think real education about general nutrition needs to become normative, otherwise new policies will only be met with disdain.

  19. I think there should be more promotion of a plant-based diet because you’re right that that is the key to eating lots of food that’s tasty and nutritious.

    However, I think that the writers were right to target portion control as calorie balance a pretty good way to determine weight gain/loss…having extra weight has a lot of bearing on this.

    Further, these clinical trials and whatnot cited in the guidelines to support vegetarian and vegan diets are affected by far too many confounding factors. Many who choose to adopt a vegetarian diet do so because they are trying to lose weight or be healthy–in either case, they are more aware of their diets than the average person. Until I see a causal study, I’m not convinced that a vegan diet is superior to a flexitarian diet. From an evolutionary standpoint, humans are meant to eat meat. I think these plant-based diets can facilitate healthy eating, but with all respect, I would wait before I advertise a diet that hasn’t been proven to work as *the way.*

    Of course, we can debate about this all day, but the real problem is that the vast majority of people who need the dietary guidelines don’t read them and don’t care…the problem is getting portion control and education to them…and no one’s doing that…

    I get annoyed when Food Network chefs do not cook vegetables, for example, because that’s a great way to set an example. If vegetables aren’t a significant portion of restaurant menus, etc., then people won’t eat them. I have to go out of my way many times to get vegetables when eating out. Then again, I suppose they might not sell as well, so it’s a bit of a chicken and egg thing…

    It would seem that there are some policy changes in order to enforce the 2010 guidelines, or any set of dietary guidelines, and we haven’t had those. It’s unfortunate because we’re spending a TON of money on preventable chronic diseases.

    Thanks for writing on the new guidelines and provoking this great discussion. If only all of this information could reach more people…

    • “From an evolutionary standpoint, humans are meant to eat.”

      How can we account for the thousands of vegetarians that have thrived in India for thousands of years? Many have full mental and physical capabilities.

      • I’m really not here to troll, but scientists think meat allowed us to fill a niche and come out on top in natural selection. I’m talking millions of years ago, not thousands. Just look at the fact that we have canines–those two sharp teeth, and the fact that our digestive tract is shorter than that of a herbivore (it’s actually between herbivore and carnivore, suggesting we evolved as omnivores).

        Please, please, don’t think I’m here to brew a fight. I eat meat about once a month; I do support vegetarian and vegan diets and enjoy this blog very much. I just don’t think that veganism should be a focus of the dietary guidelines given the scientific evidence–I believe that in modern times one can live as a vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore. If you’re interested to read more, I have some sources I would consider pretty credible.


        national geographic:

        • Hey, you know I love opinions!

          To be fair to everyone, I’ve never said that I think that veganism is 100% justified in evolutionary terms. I simply think it’s how we ought to be eating now–for the animals, for the planet, and for each other. There are a lot of things not given room in evolution that I think are nevertheless right, and veganism is one. I believe anyone can be healthy on any diet; I simply think veganism is the diet that’s ethical.

          OK, so why am I plugging for vegetarian diets? Because even if meat made evolutionary sense at one point, i don’t think it’s particularly healthy for us at this point and time and in general. I also think that they provide totally indiscriminate eaters (which, I’m sorry to say, is most Americans) with a health safety net than do ominivore diets.

          I didn’t say verbatim that the gov. should tell us all to be vegan, but given how harmful I believe dairy to be, I can wish 😉


    • you are so right! this message should be sent in such a way where people that need it and could benefit from it, have access to and are likely to pay attention to! and agree!! food network cound be a great way to set an example!!

  20. Oh and also… How many people, excluding people in the nutrition and exercise) field (we apply there) and the conscious eaters (like all of us here) would read a 100+ page-paper on food recommendations?

  21. I read through the guidelines and I agree with your post 100%

    I think they came a long way from what it was before, and encouraging more nutrient-dense foods seems like something new.
    Of course the meat and dairy industry play a big role, not only in what the guidelines say but also in the safety and health controls done to farms and slaughterhouses to make sure they comply with guidelines, which are pretty lax.

    Good thing! They do talk about veggie and vegan diets and how amazing they are!! Yay!! But the message is Eat less, so as I was reading your post and some of the comments, eating a plant-based diet, portions are not really an issue as much as actually getting a wide variety of food to ensure proper nutrition. The eating less is more geared toward mainstream consumers, who eat processed foods and for those foods, amount should be controlled.

    Overall, I think the message is good, still far from what we would like them to say, but there are so many interests to guard, thus so much pressure, that it would take a few more guidelines and more actual information on the ‘how to do and what to actually eat instead of junk and processed and meat and dairy’ to get the best message out.

    We actually had a discussion about this in class just a little while ago so I’m all pumped up! haha
    Have a great night!!!

  22. Thanks for a thoughtful, intelligent analysis. I am not sure of the point of guidelines any more. Not to sound too jaded, but do publishing 100+ pages of guidelines every few years really make a meaningful difference to how the majority of the population eats? The ones who most need guidance are very rarely the ones seeking it.

    I think we should all just follow Michael Pollan’s guidelines: Eat Food. Mostly Plants. Not Too Much.

    And that saves 100+ pages. 🙂

    • The full report of the Dietary Guidelines serves many purposes- not necessarily for everyday Americans to read. For example, the DGs are used as the nutrition basis for government-funded food assistance programs like SNAP (formerly Food Stamps), WIC, etc. Also it uses rigorous research methods performed by the Nutrition Evidence Library to provide medical professionals a foundation for nutritional recommendations they can relay to patients. The purpose of this is so the nation will receive consistent messaging.
      To learn more about the purpose of the dietary guidelines: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2010/PolicyDoc/QandA.pdf

  23. It doesn’t surprise me that the government would put something like this out. They probably spent millions getting to this conclusion, too.

    I think a lot of the problem is that so many highly processed foods try to imitate what the government recommends that you don’t have, which makes people gravitate to foods that are nutritionally-void, which makes us overeat because our bodies are starving, even in a caloric surplus.

    If plants, especially fruits + veggies, and other whole foods make up a large portion of your overall diet, you’re definitely going in the right direction. 🙂

  24. I appreciate that you read the guidelines and your analysis. For me, until I ate more raw foods it was very hard to get enough fruits and veggies in. Why? Because grains and other things fill you up. Americans need to be taught to eat fruits and veggies first before they get too full on whatever else they choose.

    I really beg to differ that organic and grass fed meats are much better. Most farms send cows to “finishing lots” before slaughter and they eat grains there. Unless the farmer is doing the killing his or herself, it’s likely the cow ate grain. And even organic milk has casein in it, not just hormones. I think animal products are inherently bad, and lately it seems there aren’t even many vegans who agree wholeheartedly.

    • B,

      From a purely health minded perspective, I speak relatively about any meat or dairy not being bad for you. I think they’re all pretty bad for you, yes, and that plant foods are infinitely better. But I think that organic and grass fed, by and large, is at least marginally better than conventional, and will send you to the grave less quickly. Still bad? Yes. Less terrible? I think so, probably.

      Obviously, that’s not taking ethics into account at all, but as you can see, I made this post one sided from the health angle, if only because I think it’s obvious to my readers that I think all animal products are unethical. The report itself had no aspirations toward ethics (toward animals, humans, the planet, or anyone), and I was taking it on its own (somewhat limited and flawed) terms.


      • thanks for the reply. i just think a lot of people are fooling themselves with the organic or grass-fed label.

  25. I love Kristen’s sauce recipe, and yes, I have made it. A total keeper!

    “If your body is so structurally incapable of digesting a food that eating it makes you ill, you should simply eat a little less?”–
    I know, it’s so true and it’s like food allergy 101…if your body is struggling, WHY keep ingesting it. Just stop. Really, there are other things to eat. I know i am preaching to the choir though 🙂

    The guidelines. I would rather watch paint dry than read 112 pgs of that!

    I’ll take your word for it all. Nothing the goverment says, publishes, or pays money to commission elaborate studies on, ever even surprises me anymore. Either it’s so far-fetched, so common sense, or so no-sense-at-all…that I don’t bother reading it. Or putting stock into it.

    Unfortunately, many people don’t think for themselves and create their own path so it bothers me when rampant mis-information, or sub-par info, is being propagated.

    But now, that’s far enough for a comment, so I will stop 🙂

  26. I haven’t actually read the guidelines, but based on your description I’m not surprised. What really bothers me is that schools base their curriculum on these guidelines, so that is what our kids are being taught.

  27. As an Australian who wasn’t aware of these guideline changes in America, I find reading up on them, and then looking into your take, fascinating. As someone with lactose intolerant, I too am a bit mindboggled by the milk statement. I know I feel far better when I cut out all dairy, not just cut *down* on it. I can get my calcium in other ways, thanks all the same Mr Guidelines! 😛

    Oh, how I long for kale to become readily available in my city in Canberra…

  28. I really do not have anything different to add to what you have stated about the guidelines. I am in complete agreement with you and it makes me very worried about the future of our country when the government doesn’t abide by its responsibility to protect its citizens.

  29. Damn straight on the portion thing. Eating overly refined and therefore nutrient stripped and calorie dense food will result in overconsumption of energy just to feel full, something a plant based diet can do for you but without the excess calories and with all the lovely nutrients.
    I disagree with one point though- lactose intolerance isn’t a structural inability to digest milk, the vast majority of people who are lactose intolerant just make a reduced amount of lactase so it’s the efficiency of lactose digestion that’s the problem- not all of it gets broken down in the small intestine and it is then broken down (inefficiently) by bacteria in the large bowel. While some people produce no lactase at all, this is quite uncommon, and usually seen where there is structural damage caused by something else, like celiac diease or Crohn’s (therefore not lactose intolerance as the primary ‘disease’). It means most lactose intolerant types can eat small amounts of dairy, and usually fare best on fermented dairy like yogurt and cheese, or butter, which is basically the fat separated from the other bits (the sugars). In my personal experience (and I am ‘lactose intolerant’) I can consume small amounts of cow’s milk (up to 100ml a day), in coffee usually, with no adverse effects, and I can eat as much yogurt as I like, although a bowl of ice-cream or a latte would kill me. I have found my tolerance level through experimenting- basically if I consume a certain amount of lactose-containing dairy I am making enough lactase to digest that, but not more. I do think though that there is far too much dairy (and poorly sourced at that) in processed foods which adds a lot of ‘invisible dairy’ to the average diet. Lactose intolerance and other digestive difficulties are much easier to manage if you know what’s in every mouthful you consume- just the sort of food that’s found at Choosing Raw:)

    • Eimear,
      I have just finished reading the best book ever written on dairy, by Joseph Keon titled ‘Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth about Cows Milk and Your Health’, I highly recommend everyone to read it. Your comment that ” while some people produce no lactase at all, this is quite uncommon”, is not backed up by research, in fact research suggests that fifty million Americans do not produce the lactase enzyme, and worldwide threequaters of the population does not produce lactase after childhood, with race a major factor. Asians have the highest prevalence of lactose intolerance with Vietnamese 100%, Thais 90%, African Americans 70%. Are you implying that Vietnamese people are “structually damaged”? The human body gradually stops manufacturing lactase by the age of four, this is for a good reason, because we don’t need our mothers milk anymore and we certainly don’t need it from another mammal. Not even cows drink milk they eat grass. Despite the pervasiveness of lactose intolerance it doesn’t surprise me that people will still find a way to incorporate it in their diet, dairy is highly addictive and anyone with symptoms of intolerance should avoid it all together.

      • I read an article in the Scientific American about relatively recent genetic changes, and mutation responsible for the ability to digest lactose was one of them.
        Their findings were similar: Asians and most Africans lack the necessary gene; but Caucasian population of European origin has it. And for those of us with this ancestry, even though we are a minority in the contemporary world, milk is not only digestible well but culturally significant.

        • Asians and most Africans lack the necessary gene; but Caucasian population of European origin has it. And for those of us with this ancestry, even though we are a minority in the contemporary world, milk is not only digestible well but culturally significant. [emphasis added]

          This is a categorical statement and is not true. My family has good records going back before 1630, so we know our ancestry is English-German-Swiss — entirely Caucasian-of-European-origin. Dairy is not easily digestible for me, regardless of any cultural significance it may or may not have.

          • Interesting. Thanks for sharing!
            This means there is a lot more variability and for more reasons than I have realized. Do you mind me asking if your parents also had any trouble with dairy?

    • Eimer,

      I was speaking with irresponsible imprecision re: lactose intolerance$ I actually just meant to say that, if you aren’t carefully managing the condition, lactose will make you ill (that’s what I was suggesting by ‘can’t digest.’ I didn’t mean to talk in depth about the medical details of the intolerance. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t think people with lactose intolerance (of which I’m one) should simply eat less dairy.

      Thanks for the very thorough clarification!


  30. The same agency that is charged with promoting U.S. agriculture should not be charged with promulgating health guidelines. The USDA needs to be broken up, CAFO’s need to be outlawed (thus reducing the supply of meat drastically), and fruits and vegetables need to be subsidized. Michael Pollan’s first post as an opinion blogger for the New York Times says it all: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/a-food-manifesto-for-the-future/?ref=opinion.

    That said, I was excited to hear that the USDA suggested that people should fill their plates with half veggies.

    • To this poster and Gena:

      I am have a degree in dietetics and am currently in training to become a Registered Dietitian. I have taken several nutritional biochemistry classes and worked with lactose intolerant patients, so I felt the need to comment on this point.

      Science supports that being lactose intolerant does not automatically limit you from all dairy- even milk. Lactose intolerance by nature is a deficiency of the digestive enzyme (lactase) that breaks down the sugar in milk products. However with continued exposure to lactose in small amounts, lactase can be slightly increased in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to improved tolerance of dairy. This is referred to as “colonic adaptation”.

      It certainly may not be for everyone who suffers from lactose intolerance, but the Dietary Guideline’s recommendation to try drinking smaller amounts of milk at a time is not without the support of clinical research. In my opinion it is inaccurate to assert that the DGs are telling Americans to “go ahead and eat things that compromise your health”.

      Additionally, symptoms of lactose intolerance can be decreased by pairing milk or milk products with other foods/meals or choosing low-lactose dairy foods such as cheese.

      For more information, here are a few resources (among many out there):

      • This has not been my experience. My stomach is not fond of dairy, not even cheese, in any quantity. I have experimented with Lactaid in the past, and although that takes away the gas and cramps (provided I don’t eat a huge portion of dairy), my bowel movements are still extremely loose afterwards with other more unpleasant side effects I will not mention. I’m not saying this isn’t the case for others, but I know my body is extremely intolerant.

  31. I don’t know, I think it’s different for different people. I was vegan and high-raw for over a year and I didn’t feel very good. Now I’m back to being ‘only’ vegetarian and most of my digestion problems went away. When I was vegan I ate a lot, I was hungry 2 hours after lunch (which wasn’t just green salad, I always had a high-fat dressing and legumes etc.), I thought about food all the time and on top of that I was almost always bloated. Now I eat 4 times a day mostly and the rest of the time food just isn’t on my mind. I know that there’s a psychological component to that and I know plenty of people who eat high raw vegan diets without any problem, but for me, big portions of vegetables is not the right way. I’d rather have smaller portions with some cheese thrown in, that way I don’t even have to control my portionsize, I eat the right amount without thinking about it.

    • Hi Maria,

      I had to comment on YOUR comment. I was 100% raw for a year and had the same experience you did. I was constantly eating and felt terrible and gassy because I was so bloated. I never let anything digest without dropping something else on top of it. I was even MORE obsessed with food. I found that not worrying about it and being veg helped me normalize. This said, I don’t feel in line with my morals this way but I don’t feel sick and crazed either. I don’t stand in the kitchen all day thinking about what I can eat next. I can go on with my day. I wish it wasn’t this way but I’ve tried so many times to be 100% raw and (even fruitarian-still tempts me now and then) and it just makes me crazy. Maybe because I’m not fully satiated or maybe because I know that I’m eating minimal calories so I “can” eat all I want. Either way, it didn’t work for me.

      • I think we all need to remember that being raw and being vegan are different. I see scores of people feeling gassy and bloated and starving on 100% (or close to it) raw diets; I don’t see that, generally, among vegans who eat a more traditional cooked routine. Something to keep in mind. I don’t want to put words into anyone’s mouth; just saying that it’s different to go raw than it is to eat vegan.

    • Marla,

      You sound like a pretty conscious eater. To be honest, I’m talking about totally mainstream eaters, not careful and thoughtful eaters. So for you, you can strike a good balance between volume and density (which vegans have to do too, by the way — I have such a balance myself). But I’m saying that, for super high fat and processed and unhealthy foods, eating a tiny portion is really the only way to eat without immediately becoming overweight, and few people can enjoy such tiny portions.


      • I agree on the processed foods, but real cheese, yogurt and even meat (although I don’t eat it for ethical reasons) aren’t highly processed foods. And I don’t believe a whole foods diet without these products is any more healthy then one with them.
        Apart from that, I don’t think telling people to not eat something they ate their whole lifes will do any good, eating is a highly personal thing and putting so much restriction (and for mainstream eaters a vegan diet is restrictive) on it won’t work. I agree with people below, it would be much better to change the system of subsidies and lobbying then putting out guidelines every couple of years.

  32. Great post and I agree with your views on portion control – it is truly hard to control them when digging into a bag of chips, processed meals, etc. But I’ve given up worrying about portion sizes and calorie counting since going high raw – no need to worry about too much broccoli or spinach. The report falls short of encouraging Americans to satisfy themselves with more fruits and veggies and giving more plant-based alternatives.

  33. I guess I’m disappointed, but not really surprised. I’d have been shocked if the government had taken a hard stand on public health because goodness knows most people don’t want to actually do the work to be healthy. They want to eat what they feel like and look and feel incredible. As much as I don’t like the dumbed down “portion control” theme, I think firmer guidelines would have resulted in such backlash that they would have done more harm than good. People who are already health conscious knew this information before the government fed it to us (and we know MUCH more, like the true benefits of a veggie lifestyle) so I don’t think these guidelines were directed at us. Rather, it’s a public organization’s attempt to put a band-aid on a gaping wound and then they can say they tried.

  34. I’ve very wary of any kind of dietary advice from the government. Can you say corporate influence? I guess the report gives some good information but it’s doubtful that it will have any impact on the way Americans eat. Also, I think the emphasis on seafood is disturbing given how contaminated our oceans are. A lot more has to change than updates to this report to make any impact on the health of our nation. I am happy, however, that there is more attention being given to the harmful effects of sodium on the body.

  35. I felt a little discouraged in reading this but then remembered that there are HUGE food lobbies that encourage a lot of meat, salt, junk, and processed food consumption so I view this as a big step in the right direction.

  36. Great analysis of the new nutritional guidelines. Although I’m not vegan or vegetarian, the majority of my diet is plant-based. I was thinking as I was reading through the new guidelines, that you really don’t have to watch your portions when you’re eating fresh vegetables — in fact, it’s astounding how much you CAN eat with minimal calories. There must be some assumption that the average American eater can’t eat fresh vegetables without drowning them in some kind of unhealthy salad dressing or sauce. Sigh.

  37. Great insights, Gena! That’s the main idea that I got out of The China Study–that if you consume a plant-based diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods, you don’t need to worry so much about portions.

    Also, I can see that the messages are “tame” in comparison to the real truth-ever see Food Inc? I didn’t realize how many people in the FDA and USDA were lobbyers for dairy and meat companies. It is so atrocious!

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