Guiding the Dietary Guidelines for 2015: It’s People.

Here is a special guest blog post from Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., the Physicians Committee’s director of nutrition education, discussing her experience this week at the 2015 Dietary Guidelines hearing:

In the classic film Soylent Green, the main character discovers that the titular food product is actually made of human remains. The end of the movie features an iconic scene with Charlton Heston being carried away as he yells, “Soylent Green is people!” Even though this is a science fiction movie from 1973, the fight still rages on between what’s good for consumers and what makes the food industry money.

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At the 2015 Dietary Guidelines hearing today at the National Institutes of Health, physicians, dietitians, and other health care professionals took on the role of Charlton Heston, trying to warn the advisory committee about the dangers of meat and dairy products. Everyone with a stake—financial or otherwise—in America’s eating habits was invited to present their testimony to the advisory committee. Health care professionals were flanked by representatives from major companies who have a financial investment in what Americans eat. To protect their profits, the meat and dairy lobbyists came out in full force.

Even though processed meat products are linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, these products provide a source of revenue for people who have concerns other than our health. I presented evidence from multiple sources showing the health detriments of red and processed meat. I urged for similar language to the World Cancer Research Fund, which has stated that no amount of processed meat is safe for consumption. Compared to hot dogs, Soylent Green starts to seem like a pretty good option.

I also proposed that the advisory committee reassess their dairy recommendations. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines acknowledged that high-fat dairy products are the biggest source of saturated fat in our diets. However, even low-fat dairy options are high in calories and can contribute to certain forms of cancer. So why recommend fatty dairy when leafy greens offer an excellent danger-free source of calcium?

Fortunately, none of the protagonists at the hearing were carried screaming from the room, like in Soylent Green, so hopefully our message was heard. It’s time for the USDA and DHHS to support the best interests of our nation’s health and not capitulate to the financial interests of the meat and dairy industries.

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