1980 approach shows guidelines’ on wrong track
Feb. 8, 2011
After unveiling the inaugural edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 1980, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a complementary booklet, “Ideas for Better Eating” to help consumers follow the new guidance.
Suggestions among the seven daily menus offered in the booklet included pancakes and syrup, bagels and cream cheese and ham sandwiches, among menu choices. More generally, the U.S.D.A. said, “The menus offer a variety of bread and cereals and use substantially more than is generally consumed. Bread and grain products are offered frequently.”
The booklet also has tips for healthier eating, including greater intake of whole grains and moderation in consumption of fats, sweets and snacks. Mostly, the menus featured choices mirroring what the public ate. How different the approach from last week’s guidelines where the federal government essentially urges consumers to slash intake of enriched grains in half. And before readers criticize the 1980 guidance as primitive, they should answer this: Who wouldn’t trade today’s “enlightened” obesity rates with the obesity rates from any time in the “ignorant” 1980s?
The animosity toward enriched (“refined” is the term) grains seems to emanate from the prominence of grain-based desserts as the largest single source of calories in the diet, based on the somewhat arbitrary way foods are categorized by the U.S.D.A. Still, grain-based desserts account for fewer than 10% of flour use.
Ostracizing flour for its part in desserts makes as much sense as telling consumers to stop eating strawberries because it is an ingredient in some ice creams, or almonds because they are included in some chocolate bars. The public-policy world of nutrition guidance seems vastly different today from 1980. It’s easy to imagine bakers shaking their heads in 1980, thinking wistfully of the grains guidance, “If only the public would listen.” Today, bakers again are shaking their heads, thinking, “If only the public would ignore.”