Eat This Now, Before They Tell You Not To

Why the U.S. dietary guidelines keep changing and how to read them.

Confused About What to Eat? You're Not Alone

As Jerry Seinfeld might say, what's the deal with nutrition science? One day eggs are bad, next day they're good. Or good in moderation. Who knows?

One reason what to eat is so hotly debated is all the money tied up in it. The dietary guidelines the U.S. government issues every five years are the culmination of a process that involves not only nutritionists, doctors, and other health professionals but also the food industry and its many lobbyists. 

In the latest guidelines, issued early this year, the expert panel’s preliminary report included advice to lower consumption of red and processed meats, for the environment as well as for your health. The meat industry weighed in, and in the final version only men and teenage boys were urged to eat less protein. The environment was cut out of the equation altogether.1 The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have said that the guidelines are based on a rigorous review of scientific evidence and consideration of comments from the public and federal agencies.

The science changes, too. Eggs were once considered a driver of heart disease, because of their high cholesterol content. According to some recent research, healthy people can eat eggs without much of a problem. Fats, too, are no longer entirely shunned, but broken down into good and bad. Trans fats (in processed foods) and saturated fats (in dairy and red meat) are bad. Unsaturated fats (in olive oil and nuts) are good.

The nuance, if not the cholesterol, could kill you.

People don’t shop for unsaturated fats. They shop for food. Maybe the government should keep it simple: More fruits and vegetables. Less processed food and soda. Lean meats, fish, nuts, and beans. Whole grains. Not too much of anything. Except maybe the vegetables.

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  1. 1 “Issues of the environment and sustainability are critically important,” the government said at the time. "But because this is a matter of scope, we do not believe that the 2015 [dietary guidelines] are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability.”