The 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) released its long-anticipated report with its recommendations.Established jointly by the secretaries of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the committee’s task was to advise USDA and HHS whether revisions to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines were warranted, and, if so, what they should be.
The driving concern behind the DGAC’s recommendations is the current obesity epidemic. Given the present regulatory environment and the Obama Administration’s focus on obesity, particularly childhood obesity, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines are expected to have an impact on the regulation of food labeling and advertising.
Additionally, the guidelines will likely encourage efforts already underway by state and local governments and governmental organizations to urge food manufacturers to consider reformulating food products or develop more healthful ones.
A copy of the report can be found at http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-DGACReport.htm.
Surprisingly, the DGAC report doesn’t recommend low-carb diets. In the Weight Loss Diets section, it concludes that a “moderate body of evidence” provides no data to suggest any one macronutrient (e.g., carbohydrates, protein) is more effective than any other for avoiding weight regain in people who’ve lost weight.For individuals seeking to lose weight or maintain weight loss, the report recommends reduced-calorie diets with the macronutrient proportions that are within the Dietary Reference Intakes: (10–35% protein, 45–65% carbohydrate and 20–35% fat). The report claims that low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets have shown “long-term ineffectiveness and health risks.”
Yet when I reviewed the report’s reference library looking for studies that support that position all I could find was a few epidemiology studies and clinical studies on high-protein diets, with protein intake of more than 35 percent of calories. As we all know, this does not describe Atkins. Moreover, the report ignored the entire body of evidence in the form of clinical studies that looked specifically at low-carb diets published over the last four years.
One obvious conclusion we must draw from the nation’s obesity crisis is that encouraging people to eat less fat and consume complex carbohydrates has been unsuccessful in terms of weight control for many (if not most) of us. Only a relatively small number of adults has been able to maintain a healthy weight by following the current low-fat dietary guidelines, which implies that most Americans may be metabolically and genetically programmed to benefit from alternative diets such as the low-carbohydrate approach.
Among the many persistent misunderstandings about low-carb diets are that they’re dangerously high in protein, that the amount of saturated fat consumed is dangerous and that controlling carbs reduces well-being and fitness endurance. All of these myths have been shown to be incorrect. Metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, diabetes and even many forms of obesity are all clear evidence of carbohydrate intolerance. Therefore, limiting carbs is an intuitive and rational approach to improvement of blood sugar and insulin resistance. The DGAC really needs to reflect the new science that has addressed low-carb diets.
What evidence does the committee have to support the recommendation to follow a low-fat, high-complex carb diet and imply that anything lower than 45 to 65% of calories as carbohydrates is unsustainable and a health risk?
The studies cited to support the conclusions that low-carb diets are ineffective for weight loss and may be unsafe vary widely in the percentages of fat, protein and carbs. The studies cited have been deliberately selected to serve a low-fat agenda.
The report defines low-carbohydrate diets as those in which carbs constitute less than 45 percent of total calories. Atkins fits this definition. However, the report also defines a high-protein diet as one in which protein comprises 35 percent or more of total calories, which decidedly does not define Atkins. Protein remains less than 30 percent in all four phases of Atkins.
Therefore, Atkins falls within the government guidelines of what is considered safe protein consumption. Moreover, the committee failed to cite a single low-carbohydrate study that showed health risks when protein was within this recommended range.
Low-carbohydrate and high-protein are used somewhat interchangeably and therefore confusingly in the DGAC document. However, low-carbohydrate is not synonymous with high-protein. Atkins is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet, not a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet.
Of the 63 studies published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals that support the effectiveness and safety of the Atkins Diet, very few are cited in this report.
Do people with carbohydrate intolerance and difficulty maintaining a normal weight or who are insulin resistant deserve an alternative to the failed low-fat diet recommendations? I say that they do—and I suspect you do, too.