Last week there was another barrage of headlines in the media certain to confuse the public about whether cholesterol and animal fats in general are to be promoted or restricted in their diets. Do you put lard or lettuce on your sandwich? This arose out of a report first in the Washington Post and later at many other sites that the influential Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee of the USDA was advising the remove cholesterol as a "nutrient of concern" in the American diet. A draft report from this committee was released in December so this was not new information but it made good fodder for talks shows and bloggers. The draft report is actually an interesting snapshot of the American diet, good and bad, and it serves to highlight 10 things that are illustrative of nutrition in the U.S.
1) After age 8, <20 percent of the American population meet dietary guidelines for fruit intake.
2) At all ages up to 70, 80 percent of Americans exceed recommended dietary sodium intake.
3) Between 80-100 percent of Americans exceed recommended empty calories (added sugar plus solid fats) with children under age 8 having the highest rate of excess.
4) Between 2004 and 2010 vegetable intake in the US has declined!
5) Beverages make up 19 percent of total calorie intake (soda, juices and milk).
6) "Mixed dishes" are the largest source of sodium and saturated fat and included pizza, burgers, and sandwiches.
7) Snacks contribute 1/4th of calories daily and are the biggest source of added sugar.
8) Nearly 1 in 3 youth are overweight or obese, the number is 2 of 3 in adults.
9) Of children with diabetes, 93 percent are obese and therefore reversible.
10) Healthy eating styles identified were the Mediterranean, vegetarian and Healthy U.S. patterns.
As can be appreciated by studying this report, the average American diet barely has a pulse and is the source of rampant chronic diseases in youth and adults. Until higher amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains are the norm, along with lesser amounts of added sugars and saturated fat rich "mixed dishes," the health of the population will suffer. As to the headlines regarding cholesterol, Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine has pointed out that most foods high in cholesterol are also high in saturated fat, a food component the USDA is still advising to restrict. For example, an egg with 200 mg of cholesterol also provides 20 percent of calories from saturated fat. Indeed, the American Heart Association released new guidelines for prevention of heart disease in 2013 and reduced the recommended amount of calories from saturated fat from 7 percent to 5-6 percent based on an extensive review of the literature. We should be hearing "I will have a quarter of an egg over easy" if at all to not exceed the saturated fat goal! Unfortunately, the headlines and the confusion created last week about the USDA panel will do nothing to move the diet and health of the nation towards a better state. For me, we would be better served by requiring all children and adults to recite every day the Pollan Pledge of Nutritional Allegiance: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.