Advocacy: My Comments on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Plus Larabar Recipe!)

These chocolate chip cookie dough larabars are a real crowd-pleaser!  With just 3 whole food vegan ingredients they are a snap to make.  Store-bought Larabars list their ingredients and are usually made of real food like nuts and dates.  Pick up a few from the store that you like and try to make them at home!  We love this version, as well as date, almond, and dried apple (apple pie)!
These chocolate chip cookie dough larabars are a real crowd-pleaser! With just 3 whole food vegan ingredients they are a snap to make. Store-bought Larabars list their ingredients and are usually made of real food like nuts and dates. Pick up a few from the store that you like and try to make them at home! We love this version, as well as dates, almonds, and dried apples (apple pie)!

The USDA releases dietary guidelines for Americans every 5 years.  The proposed guidelines for 2015 have been released by the preliminary advisory committee and they are now being reviewed and finalized by USDA.  The nutritional recommendations are based on science, consideration of industry impact, input from the US Congress, White House priorities, and public comment.  In other words: it’s totally up to the advisory committee what to recommend in the proposed guidelines, and some, all, or none of it may make it into the final USDA-approved version of the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”  The guidelines are an important public policy document as they influence not only what many Americans think they should eat to be healthy, but what foods are served in schools and provided in programs like SNAP (food stamps) and WIC (supplemental nutrition for women, infants, and children).  More broadly, when the final version of the guidelines is released the media will report major findings (or the most incendiary recommendation) and countless individuals and businesses will try to capitalize on public awareness with a frenzy with diet books, websites, and new “food” products.  The advisory committee has submitted proposed guidelines with the final version to be released later in 2015.  Since the period for public comment on the  guidelines is open now until May 8, 2015, now is the time to make your voice heard.  You can read my public comments below in bold.  Scroll to the bottom for an amazing home-made Larabar recipe!

Last year Congress passed a non-binding resolution asking the USDA not to consider the environmental impact of what Americans eat.  Since animal foods are particularly environmentally unsustainable, I have no doubt that this resolution is a result of lobbying by the animal agriculture industry.  A whole food vegan diet fits perfectly into a low-impact diet for the environment.

With regard to the appropriateness of the committee submitting guidelines that consider the sustainability (rather than simply nutrition) of diets: please DO allow recommendations for an environmentally sustainable diet to remain in the final version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

This year the advisory committee caused quite a stir among nutritionists as they decided to make no recommendation for total cholesterol and remove the upper limit (about 1 egg’s worth per day maximum).  This recommendation is based on aggregated population studies that show no positive or negative effect of dietary cholesterol on cardiovascular health.  However we must consider whether these studies have the power by design to show any effect of cholesterol: is that what the study was designed to test?  If I take a snapshot of 100 Americans eating their usual diets, by the end of the study if the participants haven’t changed their diet then there will likely be no change in health.  But if I study one participant who changes (lowers or raises) their dietary cholesterol intake then there will definitely be a change in risk factors for heart disease.

Regarding the removal of upper limits on dietary cholesterol and the re-imagining of the presentation of fats (especially saturated fat) in the guidelines: please DO NOT base the final recommendations on population studies that by design do not have the power to show a negative effect of total cholesterol or saturated fat intake. Instead please consider myriad reliable studies that show that lowering these dietary elements in an individual positively influence risk factors for cardiovascular disease.  Please do not remove upper limits for cholesterol or saturated fat in the final dietary guidelines for Americans.

The dietary guidelines have long used nutrient names in place of food names (think “protein” instead of “meat”).  This is confusing for most people since a “carbohydrate” is not a food.  How can a consumer make choice in the grocery store when faced with food on the shelves and nutrient names in the guidelines?  This has been done to protect the animal agriculture industry.  When animal foods are obscured as a major source of fat the guidelines can say “eat less fat” instead of “eat less meat, dairy, and oil.”

Please DO use food names (meat, fish, dairy, fruits and vegetables) more than nutrient names (protein, fat, carbohydrates) in the final version of the guidelines.  This will dramatically increase the ability of the American consumer to make effective choices based on the final dietary guidelines.

Similarly, the guidelines in the past have avoided phrases that could harm industry like “eat less” or “eat more,” instead taking the ridiculous line of “there are no bad foods.”  This is a terrible case of the “everything in moderation” concept causing harm to the health of Americans.

Please DO use the language of “eat less” and “eat more,” without consideration of the possible effects of the dietary recommendations on any given industry.

The advisory committee recommends very frequent consumption of fatty fish (twice a week!) in order to get enough omega-3 fatty acids.  But whole food vegans know that leafy greens, beans, and vegetables provide plenty of this essential fatty acid.  By not consuming oil of any kind and limiting nuts and nut butters we bring our omega-6 to omega-3 ratio into balance; there is no need to supplement omega-3s with fish fat.  Fun Fact: herring and mackerel both have more omega-3 fat than salmon.  And a tablespoon of ground flax seed per day contains 100% of the daily recommended amount for all Americans.  To get that amount from olive oil in one day you would need to somehow consume 8 ounces!

Please DO NOT recommend frequent consumption of fatty fish such as salmon (the committee has recommended two servings per week) in consideration of toxic methyl mercury and other environmental contaminants. 104 servings of fatty fish per yer seems likely to have a deleterious effect on health outcomes for Americans.

The dietary recommendations still emphasize low fat dairy as a primary source of calcium.  Whole food vegans know that dark leafy greens provide an excellent source of calcium with none of the negative effects of a highly acidic casein-rich animal food like cow’s milk.  And iron from animal sources interferes with calcium absorption; could a high animal-food diet be the reason that the advisory council advises increasing calcium intake from dairy?  Why not eliminate both of these animal foods and allow our bodies to absorb the abundant calcium in whole plant foods with ease?

Please DO recommend sources of dietary calcium other than cow’s milk (leafy greens, nuts) and consider the relationship between decreased heme iron from animal sources and increased absorption of calcium from plant sources.

And finally…

Please DO recommend the benefits of a whole foods plant based diet.

“Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Larabars”


2 Cups pitted soft Medjool dates

1/2 Cup raw cashews

1/2 Cup unsweetened 100% cacao chips (or other dairy-free unsweetened chocolate chip)

Run the cashews through a food processor or blender until pulverized.  They should be a little more chunky than a fine flour (be careful not to make cashew butter by accident).  Place the cashews in a large mixing bowl.  Run the dates through the food processor until they are mushy and form a large sticky ball.  Add the dates to the cashews.  Add the cacao chips to the bowl and use slightly damp hands to mix all together.  When the dough is thoroughly mixed and incorporated shape it into two round logs and place them on a plate in the freezer for 30 minutes.  Remove the logs from the freezer and use a sharp knife to slice them into rounds.  Store in the refrigerator.


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