Thursday 19 October 2017

New Dietary Guidelines – Directed at Consumers, Taking Shots at the Food Industry

The Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments issued the latest dietary guidelines Monday. The dietary guidelines are non-binding guidance issued by the departments every five years. This year’s guidelines are “blunter” than ever before. The NY Times reports that the guidelines are aimed at shaping federal nutrition programs, like the National School Lunch Program, but are also meant to educate consumers how to eat healthier. The potential reshaping of consumer habits means the food industry will have to “consider reformulating its products.”

The guidelines basic message is to eat less. The guidelines recommend reducing sodium intake to half a teaspoon a day. The average intake of sodium is estimated at double that amount (see pg. 21 of the guidelines). The guidelines provide a number of suggestions on how to reduce your daily salt intake, including asking restaurants not to prepare food with salt or by asking for low sodium options (Id. at 22). Restaurants won’t be the only member of the food industry pressured to reduce the saltiness of its foods. Food manufacturers will be under renewed scrutiny to cut the salt since “Americans consumer most of their salt by eating processed foods…” (NY Times).

The other eat less message was to avoid oversized portions. The guidelines cite research finding “portion size is associated with body weight” and that “larger portion sizes” means “people tend to consume more calories.” (Guidelines pg. 11). The guidelines join a chorus of nutrition experts who have “railed against” larger portions leading to America’s obesity crisis (NY Times). As consumers habits change, restaurants may be forced to reformulate their menus.

The guidelines are non-binding but highly persuasive. The last time the guidelines were revised, in 2005, the government urged Americans to eat more whole grains and less sugar. This was first time whole grains were recommended and “prompted major changes in the ingredients used by food manufacturers.” (NY Times). For example, General Mills replaced all its refined grains in its breakfast cereal products with whole grains as did many bred makers. Only through a shift in the food production can the guidelines be given any opportunity to take root.

As the year progresses restaurants and food manufacturers will need review the guidelines and make accommodations to their products.

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