Tag Archives: Dietary Guidelines

2015 Will Be the Year 4 out of 5 Doctors Agree: Plants Over Pills

In January, Physicians Committee doctors and dietitians filled the National Institutes of Health to present our recommendations to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Staring down representatives from the meat and dairy industries, we made a solid case for the inclusion of plant-based diets in the guidelines. And you know what? They listened.

Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., presenting her recommendations to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., presenting her recommendations to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

During the advisory committee’s recent meeting, subcommittee members emphasized the importance of reducing meat consumption and switching to plant-based diets for both health and environmental sustainability.

While we still have to wait till Fall 2015 to learn the advisory committee’s final recommendations, doctors around the country are recognizing the importance of plants over pills. In 2013, Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health plans, sent out a nutritional update to physicians, urging health care providers to recommend a plant-based diet to their patients. Kim Williams, M.D., the next president of the American College of Cardiology, penned a blog for MedPage Today explaining why he went vegan and how recommending a vegan diet has helped his patients.

Individuals have also seen success in seeking out plant-based diets themselves. CNN recently profiled Benji Kurtz, a 37-year-old entrepreneur from Atlanta who lost 100 pounds—while improving his blood pressure and cholesterol levels—by researching and following a plant-based diet. Celebrities like Beyoncé and JLo have tweeted, Instagrammed, and blogged about their meatless meals, providing inspiration to their millions of fans and pushing plant-based diets into the pop culture spotlight.

Going forward, if the dietary guidelines committee resists the influence of meat and dairy lobbyists and follows the recommendations of health care professionals, then more people may see success like Mr. Kurtz or Dr. Williams’ patients. In the meantime, let’s all keep publicizing the science, sharing vegan recipes, and boosting this public shift toward support for vegan diets. Maybe 2015 will be the year that the government, doctors, and celebrities all find one thing they can agree on: Plant-based is best.

2015

Interested in viewing a webcast of the fourth meeting of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee? Click here.

Fed Up: Let’s Really Move Big Food Out of School Lunches

Sugar Isn’t the Only Villain in our Surging Obesity Epidemic

Katie Couric’s new documentary Fed Up is an eye-opening experience for most Americans. As the film shows, it’s nearly impossible to exercise your way out of eating pepperoni pizza, greasy fries, and a glass of low-fat chocolate milk—typical fare in K-12 school lunch rooms and family restaurant chains throughout the country. Exercise isn’t enough. We need to change what we’re eating.

healthy-school-lunches
But that’s where Fed Up misfires. It takes aim at sugar as if it is the sole devil in the lunchroom. But scapegoating sugar removes the much-deserved blame from the avalanche of meat and dairy piling up on the center of our plates – and school lunch trays. No amount of sugar reduction is going to help if people are still going for the meat and dairy.

A gram of sugar has only 4 calories. A gram of fat—from cheese, chicken, beef, or anywhere else has 9.

Compared with a century ago, Americans now eat 75 pounds more meat and 30 pounds more cheese per person, per year. In the last 30 years, consumption of cheese has tripled, fueling our childhood obesity epidemic.

Meat and cheese are the fatty staples of the standard American diet. The same diet has a hold on the National School Lunch Program: The sugar industry spent $9 million dollars lobbying in 2013, compared to the combined $17.5 million from the meat, dairy, and poultry industries.

Local beef burgers, pulled barbecue chicken, and turkey sausage need to come with parental permission slips. Countless research studies, including a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health, show consumption of meat doubles diabetes risk. One in 3 children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes at some point in their life. One in 5 now graduates high school with a diploma and high cholesterol, an early marker for heart disease, which remains the number one killer worldwide.

While we work relentlessly to teach our students about strong work ethics, academic integrity, and kindness, I can’t say we offer the same when it comes to federal subsidies and nutrition education programs.

The good news is leading medical organizations, including Kaiser Permanente, and political figures, such as former president Bill Clinton, are revolutionizing the way we think about diet and health. Science continues to show that when we make fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes the center of our plates and remove the meat and dairy, our waistlines dwindle, our health rapidly improves, and our need for medication plummets.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest organization of nutrition experts, updated its 2009 position paper to say that well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence. AND also finds people who follow vegetarian diets have a lower body mass index, lower risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of overall cancer.

Let’s really move plant-based foods to the center of our plates and see what happens.

Let’s Really Move School Lunch Ads
Op-Ed: Are Sugar and Sloth the Causes of Obesity?
Dr. Barnard’s Studies on Dietary Trends in America

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.

PCRM's Power Plate

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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