As the Dietary Guidelines for Americans go through one of their periodic updates this year, the federal bureaucrats writing them are confronting what may be the most controversial and weighty question in all of nutrition, says The Washington Post: Does eating saturated fats — the ones characteristic of meat and dairy products — contribute to heart disease?
The idea that avoiding saturated fat will, by itself, make people healthier, never has been fully proven, and in recent years repeated clinical trials and large-scale observational studies have produced evidence to the contrary, the Post says.
After all the decades of research, it’s possible that the key lesson on fats is that cutting out saturated fat and replacing them with carbohydrates likely won’t reduce heart disease risk, the paper says. But cutting saturated fats and replacing them with unsaturated fats — the type characteristic of fish, nuts and vegetable oils — might.
This shift in understanding has led to accusations that the Dietary Guidelines harmed people who for years avoided fats as instructed — and loaded up excessively on the carbohydrates in foods such as breads, cookies and cakes that were marketed as “low fat.”
As for meat, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee had recommended in February that Americans eat more foods from plants and fewer from animals. Red meat was considered particularly harmful because of the amount of land and feed required in its production.
But on Tuesday, in an item posted on the USDA blog, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell rejected the proposal, indicating that the forthcoming dietary guidelines will focus on the immediate health aspects of food, rather than on the way food choices impact the environment.