In January, the Departments of Agriculture and Health & Human Services released new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, but the advice on what to put on our plates has prompted debate. “The USDA is unfortunately conflicted because there are two missions: to support farmers, food manufacturers and the U.S. food system, and also to protect Americans’ health,” says Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy, who dished with us on guideline grievances and food philosophy.
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON THE NEW GUIDELINES? The final dietary guidelines have removed many of the key advances of the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. This includes removing nearly all focus on reducing harmful foods, such as refined grains, starchy vegetables, red meats and processed meats…. The best thing about the new guidelines is that there’s at least a stated focus on healthy foods and diet patterns, rather than nutrients. The worst thing about the new dietary guidelines is that in practice, the guidelines actually recommend eating everything in the food supply, which is a shameful capitulation to the food industry.
What would you change if you were in charge? Calories should not be a major focus. Diet quality should be the major focus; good diet quality leads to fewer calories, and bad diet quality leads to more calories…. It may sound obvious, but we make a lot of our decisions thinking about calories. People buy fat-free salad dressing. Salad dressing should be vegetable oil. So what is fat-free salad dressing? It’s starch and sugar and salt. The school lunch program bans whole milk but allows chocolate skim milk. There are a lot of examples of paradoxical policies based on focusing on calories.
So what does good diet quality look like? Industry likes to say, “Eat everything in moderation,” and somehow that entered our conventional wisdom as though that’s a sensible approach, but everything in moderation is not a sensible approach. We should be eating lots of good things and less of the bad things…. The positive foods that are best for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, many cancers, general health, the list is pretty consistent: It’s fruits, nuts, vegetables, fish, vegetable oils, yogurt, beans.
What is your one-sentence food philosophy? I would say a high-fat, bioactive-rich Mediterranean diet. By bioactive-rich, I mean things that are rich in phytochemicals and other trace compounds that are anti-inflammatory and have metabolic benefits. Foods that give rise to life are foods that are rich in bioactives—so nuts, fruits and beans are all bioactive-rich.