The Physicians Committee

New Dietary Guidelines: The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Confusing

  February 19, 2015    

Today, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee released its report on what Americans should eat. When finalized, the Guidelines will be the basis for all federal programs, including school lunches. And the report is a huge step forward in several ways:

  1. The report singled out vegetarian diets as one of three healthful diet patterns. The other two healthy patterns were the Mediterranean diet and the “Healthy U.S.-style Pattern.” Vegetarian diets reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and other health problems and have gained greater prominence in each new edition of the Guidelines.
  2. The report was a rebuke for those who have suggested that saturated (“bad”) fat, common in meat and dairy products, is somehow not a danger. The report emphasized saturated fat’s risks and maintained the previous limit that no more than 10% of calories should come from saturated fat.
  3. The report deleted “lean meat” from its list of favored foods. Its authors were convinced by evidence showing that increased consumption of “lean meat” confers no health benefits.
  4. The report breaks new ground in reporting on food’s relationship to environmental health, which in turn affects human health.

15049-COM Dietary Guideline Chart v2

But for all its good points, the new report has trouble spots:

  1. The report suggested that cholesterol in foods is not a major danger, contrasting with the Institute of Medicine, which found that cholesterol in foods does indeed raise blood cholesterol levels, especially in people whose diets are modest in cholesterol to start with. On this topic, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee did no original research and instead deferred to a 2014 report by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology. However, the American Heart Association receives substantial cash payments for certifying food products, including cholesterol-containing food products as “heart healthy,” creating a financial incentive for discounting the relationship between dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol.

    The Physicians Committee is concerned that exonerating dietary cholesterol will only confuse an already bewildered public. Most people do not differentiate fat from cholesterol, or dietary cholesterol from blood cholesterol. To suggest that cholesterol in foods is not a problem will lead many to imagine that fatty foods or an elevated blood cholesterol level carry no risk—two potentially disastrous notions.

    Accordingly, the Physicians Committee has petitioned the USDA and DHHS to disregard the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s findings on dietary cholesterol. The reliance on the American Heart Association document does not comply with the spirit of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which sets standards for bias among federal advisory committees.


  1. The Committee report recommends fish, despite frequent contamination with mercury and PCBs, and despite evidence that vegetarians who avoid fish and shellfish are slimmer and have less risk of diabetes, compared with people who eat fish.
  2. The report continued to recommend dairy products, despite recent evidence that they do not “build strong bones” or protect against fractures.

Even with its flaws, the new Dietary Guidelines report is a major advance. The Physician Committee’s own recommendations, represented graphically in The Power Plate (, focus on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes as dietary staples. The Power Plate rests on hundreds of scientific studies showing that plant-based eating habits are associated with lower obesity rates and a reduced risk of heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.

Sustainable PowerPlate Twitter 506x253


Thanks for your take on the new guidelines. The trouble spots are indeed troubling but I feel so encouraged by the progress made toward a more plant-based diet. Perhaps going all PCRM on the American public would have been too much all at one time. It took my husband and me several failed attempts before successfully and permanently going 100% vegan. Your work will help to bring the guidelines there eventually. Thanks Dr. Barnard!

Bravo and Kudos to Physicians Committee for its continual, outstanding efforts to keep nutritional 'truth' in the headlines while dispelling the false advertising that confuses the public. Animal protein and dairy are toxic. The scientific evidence cannot be refuted.

This is a good summary I have sent to my friends and posted on Facebook. I have been vegan for over twenty years. My inspiration was to help animal suffering and the environment. Now I am also motivated by health. I am 70 years old and one of the only people in my yoga class able to do a headstand. I am the only vegan in the class!

I don't see nuts and seeds on the Power Plate - aren't they basic for vegans?

Thank you very much for this. I would like to hear your opinion (or the PCRM opinion) about the new Position Paper on Vegetarian diets from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

I have just read it and found it not so positive compared to the previous version (2009). Also I'm surprised about some statements they have made that are based on just one study (for example, the incidence of iron deficiency among vegetarian pregnant women - I couldn't even find the referenced paper in PubMed!).

I'm a pediatrician based in UK/Spain; I offer dietary counselling and advice to vegetarian families in Spain and South America (in Spanish). I have been waiting with interest the release of the new position paper but now I'm a little confused about some of the content.

Thank you for all what you do.
Kind regards

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