The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee issued its long-awaited report this week and submitted its recommendations to USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Reviewed every five years, the recommendations, once in final form, serve as the basis for documents like the Food Guide Pyramid and nutrition programs such as the federal school lunch program.

"The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is the cornerstone of nationwide nutritional and dietary programs and policies, and will become increasingly significant as we continue to wage battles against obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses," HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said in a statement.

Public comments will be accepted until Sept. 27, with issuance of the final guidelines expected in early 2005. You can find an electronic copy of the document at www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines.

The committees report was largely a positive one for the industry with the committee ignoring much of the anti-meat sentiment advocated by activists. The topics the committee addresses in depth include meeting recommended nutrient intakes; physical activity; energy balance; the relationships of fats, carbohydrates, selected food groups, and alcohol with health; and consumer aspects of food safety. The committee's report contains nine key messages:

  • Consume a variety of foods within and among the basic food groups while staying within energy needs.
  • Control calorie intake to manage body weight.
  • Be physically active every day.
  • Increase daily intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and nonfat or low-fat milk and milk products.
  • Choose fats wisely for good health.
  • Choose carbohydrates wisely for good health.
  • Choose and prepare foods with little salt.
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.
  • Keep food safe to eat.
The report's most concerning aspect in relation to the beef industry is the committee's recommendations regarding fat. The committee retained the long-held guidelines of keeping saturated fat to 20% of calories or less, and cholesterol intake below 300mg/day. The panel also recommended that intake of trans fats be less than 1% of calories.

While the report specifically recommends limiting hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fatty acids, the livestock industry was hoping the report would distinguish between natural trans fatty acids. It was hoped the panel would acknowledge recent data indicating some trans fatty acids are, in fact, beneficial.

Overall, the panel did a very good job of ignoring intense political pressure and relying on the scientific body of evidence. Indications from the report are that while the food pyramid is in need of updating, the changes won't be particularly adverse to the industry.

Of course, the comment period is just beginning, but it appears that the industry's hard work in preparing for what had been called "the perfect nutritional storm" paid off.