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Dietary guidelines should guide.

Every five years, after a lengthy process that includes input from health groups and enough food-industry lobbyists to fill the Rose Bowl, the government issues a new edition of its "Dietary Guidelines for Americans." The latest version, * released in January, is the best ever (and perhaps the most surprising, considering that the Bush Administration has rejected expert advice on a host of scientific issues).

The guidelines urge Americans to base their diets mostly on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. They recommend consuming as little trans fat as possible (it comes from partially hydrogenated oil) and far less salt (largely from packaged and restaurant foods).

They also recommend eating less sugary food. (How much less? A healthy diet has room for only eight teaspoons of sugar a day, say the guidelines. A 20-ounce Coke has 17 teaspoons.) And in a section called "Food Groups to Encourage," the word "meat" doesn't even appear.

But the guidelines are meaningless unless the government uses them to save some of the hundreds of thousands of lives that are cut short every year by poor diets.

At least the young and the elderly will benefit. School lunches and programs that provide meals to seniors have to follow the guidelines, so youngsters and oldsters will be offered more whole-wheat bread, more fruits and vegetables, and less-salty foods.

But beyond that, there is no evidence that the government will do any better at translating the new guidelines into healthier diets than it did with the five previous editions. It's fine that the Secretary of Health and Human Services and other officials are urging consumers to read the report. But they ought to read it carefully first. And then they ought to re-read what our Center for Science in the Public Interest (the nonprofit publisher of Nutrition Action Health-letter) has been asking them to do for years:

* launch well-funded mass-media campaigns to promote the kind of diet endorsed by the guidelines;

* halt junk-food marketing aimed at kids and get unhealthful foods out of schools;

* limit sodium in packaged foods and chain-restaurant meals;

* lower the current fat limits on ground beef and sausages;

* get partially hydrogenated oil out of the food supply;

* set a Daily Value (recommended maximum) for added sugars and list "added sugars" on Nutrition Facts labels;

* require chain restaurants to list calories on menus and menu boards.

Whether or not the federal government does anything, CSPI will be working hard, at the national and state level, for legislation to accomplish those goals. And we're going to need your help. All you have to do is sign up for our online action alert network at


Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D.

Executive Director

Center for Science in the Public Interest
COPYRIGHT 2005 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Memo From MFJ
Author:Jacobson, Michael F.
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2005
Previous Article:Get the lead out: what you don't know can hurt you.
Next Article:Fit vs. fat.

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