US Dietary Guidelines urge ’plant-based’ protein
On Dec. 29, 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released their 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs). These new guidelines are themed “Make every bite count” as they stress that Americans should focus on nutrient-dense foods and beverages. The guidelines also recommend “lean meats” in place of animal proteins that tend to be higher in saturated fats.
Every five years a committee of doctors, researchers and scientists specializing in nutrition update the DGAs. The guidelines are based on extensive research and public comments, along with comments from industry groups.
The focus on lean meats is nothing new as the last few DGAs have included the same trend. “For the beef industry, this set of DGAs won’t pose a drastic change because there are plenty of lean meat options when it comes to red meat,” said Hyvee registered dietician Kaiti George. Before working for Hyvee, Kaiti worked at Nebraska Beef Council from 2003 through 2013 as the Director of Nutrition and Education.
The 2020-2025 DGAs suggest poultry and seafood instead of meats higher in saturated fat content such as burgers and bacon. These recommendations have caused various agriculture advocacy groups and proponents of keto-based diets to question the research behind these guidelines. These groups contend that emerging research indicates that significant amounts of red meat and/or saturated fat can lead to a healthy diet.
“In the recommendations for adults, the DGA is built off faulty science used in previous guidelines to come to its current conclusions – excluding large bodies of scientific literature, including virtually all studies on weight loss,” stated Lia Biondo, Director of Policy Outreach for the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. Biondo and her organization believe it would have been beneficial for fresh, new studies to be considered concerning dietary patterns and how existing recommendations have either hurt or helped Americans.
When the guidelines were released, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association responded on Twitter saying that beef was only mentioned five times in the 164-page 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This compares to meat being mentioned 87 times and protein 166 times.
According to the guidelines, approximately three quarters of Americans meet or exceed the recommendation for meats, poultry and eggs. At the same time, 90 percent don’t meet the recommendation for seafood and more than half of Americans don’t meet the recommendation for nuts, seeds, and soy products.
In most cases, protein foods are consumed in forms with higher amounts of saturated fat or sodium. These foods usually come in mixed dishes such as burgers, tacos, casseroles and sandwiches. The guidelines state that it is beneficial for people to select from the seafood subgroup or the beans, peas and lentils subgroup more often to ensure adequate protein consumption instead of protein with higher saturated fat. They also recommend that processed meats such as hot dogs, sausages, ham and lunchmeats be replaced with chicken breasts, ground turkey or other lean forms of meat. According to the DGAs, some of the top sources of saturated fat include deli sandwiches, burgers, tacos, burritos, grilled cheese sandwiches and hot dogs.
The guidelines revealed that 74 percent of adults and 40 percent of children and young adults are overweight or have obesity. Eleven percent of Americans have type 1 or type 2-diabetes, and almost 35 percent of American adults have pre-diabetes.
According to George, saturated fat consumption does need to be monitored because it has been associated with heart disease, but if an individual is consistently choosing lean meat cuts, saturated fat intake will take care of itself.
Two of the three examples of healthy eating patterns listed in the guidelines emphasize plant-based foods or seafood protein sources. George said that it’s not just beef that the American public is moving away from, its animal protein consumption overall. “When you look at food trends over the last five years, some of those trends have been more towards a plant-based approach, but at the same time you have to consider all the research and recommendations for fitness, athletes and health-minded individuals that revolve around protein intake. It all boils down to personal preference and education,” said George. She highlighted the importance of remembering that a person’s health is not defined by one meal; the key to proper nutrition is to incorporate healthy habits throughout our everyday lives.
The DGAs may not have been exactly what the cattle industry was hoping for, but Biondo did see some positives surface with the guidelines. “One bright spot for beef in the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is the consistent recommendation of beef as an important part of the diet for young Americans (0-2 years old), pregnant women, and older adults. Beef provides essential micronutrients like iron, choline, zinc, and more, in addition to macronutrients like protein and fat. This is the first time the Advisory Committee considered the nutrition requirements of our young citizens and it’s encouraging to see beef included on that menu,” said Biondo.
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