Dietary Guideline Confusion

Want to know how much fat is in a healthy diet?  So do we.

Eating food isn't suppose to be confusing, nor should it be a source of anxiety. That is why we have government-comissioned food guidelines.  Really smart people come up with really great tools so that you will make wise choices when deciding what goes into your mouth. The result? Complete confusion.

By law, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) are required to update the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years. 

One previous USDA food guide pyramid, created to help consumers put the dietary guidelines into action, placed dietary fat in the same category as sweets, recommending to "use fats sparingly". This recommendation, based on the low-fat movement popularized three decades ago, are no longer supported by current science. More importantly, the recommendations to eat fat sparingly are not in agreement with current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, nor are they in compliance with the daily recommendations for fat recommended by the Institute of Medicine's (IOM) Food and Nutrition Board.

  • USDA Food Guide Pyramid (1992): "Use fats sparingly"
  • USDA/HHS Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2000): "Choose a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate in total fat"
  • IOM Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy (2002):"Fat is a major source of fuel energy for the body and aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and carotenoids." "The acceptable distribution range for fat is estimated to be 20 to 35 percent of energy for adults ...30 to 40 percent for children 1 to 3 years and 25 to 35 percent of energy for children 4 to 18 years."

The solution isn't always simple: the USDA has revised its food guide three times since 1992, but confusion on dietary fat recommendations linger. The current guide may already be behind nutrition science and no longer represents the recommendations and advice of other public and private organizations. 

There are several alternative food guides for the USDA to consider when it finally makes its next inevitable change.  Allowing for the science-supported recommendations for fat, these guides include moderate consumption of healthy nuts and oils while continuing the advice to reduce saturated fats while eliminating trans fatty acids.