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A Brief History of Government Diet Recommendations

By Sean | In Nutrition | on June 15, 2011

Just last week the USDA released its newest dietary guidelines for Americans.  At the ChooseMyPlate.gov website you can take a look at what the latest recommendations are.  As many of you may recall, the USDA’s previous attempt at dietary recommendations was the Food Pyramid, which Ruth posted on may be a bit misleading.

The goal is this particular post is only to show the ever changing dietary guidelines put forward by the USDA over the past 100 years or so.  I’ll leave it open for a future post if anyone wants to take a hack at the new USDA plate and its guidelines.

A co-worker of mine loves to pick my brain on nutrition related topics whenever he has a chance.  It’s more out of honest curiosity and a healthy skepticism more than trying to poke fun at the way I eat, but some of our discussion inspired today’s post.  On his way into work one day he tuned into National Public Radio to hear a story on how the Government influences Americans’ diets and how it has changed over time.  It’s interesting to note that Government involvement in the food industry increased in the early 20th century during or just after the Great Depression.  At this point in America’s history the Government felt it was important to educate Americans to eat enough calories as food was much more scarce than today’s standards.  Also, the food industry was predominately unregulated and the Government intervened to protect the American public from highly unsanitary conditions and practices that might make your stomach turn.  Since then, many turn to our Government to provide accurate and trustworthy guidance on what they eat on a regular basis.  The NPR highlights an exhibit that just opened at the National Archives in Washington D.C. called “What Cooking, Uncle Sam?” The exhibit runs through January 3, 2012 and offers a preview here.  The exhibit touches on ways the American Government has influenced American diets by affecting farming, food processing and labeling, in the kitchen, and eating habits.  If anyone makes their way out to the D.C. area this year please stop by the National Archives Building and check out this exhibit!

Another interesting article I came across is from the Huffington Post.  What I like about it is that it actually has photographs and captions of the various USDA dietary recommendation charts issued by the USDA over the past 100 years (pictured at the top of the post).  It also links to an article written by a USDA nutritionist outlining the evolution of their dietary recommendations.  The article’s abstract states that:

“The USDA has been issuing dietary recommendations for over 100 years.  As the research base underlying these has expanded considerably over the century, dietary recommendations have evolved to keep pace with both the new findings and the changing patterns in food consumption and activity of the population.  In spite of these changes, many of today’s dietary recommendations remain impressively similar to those of yesterday.”

The statement above leaves me questioning when the USDA will begin paying attention to studies such as those highlighted in Marcus’s post from Friday.  In my opinion, a mountain of evidence is slowly building and soon the USDA may be forced to hold true to its claim that it will evolve its dietary recommendations as research will be too loud to ignore. But it is also not so fortunate for the USDA since their dietary recommendations that have sustained for so long may soon be fervently criticized leaving Americans questioning as to why the guidelines are so different from the way human beings have eaten for millions of years, why the USDA published guidelines that diverged from the basic human hunter-gatherer diet, and why did it take the USDA so long to change their guidance to what intuitively makes sense to so many of us.  I look forward to the day when those questions are answered, and Americans are provided with dietary guidelines that are true representations of current research and empowered to make better informed decisions on their dietary selections.  That’ll be the day…


WOD 06.15.11

Deadlift 1×5 or Wendler

In teams of 2,
2 Rounds, AMRAP 2 minutes of each station
Tire Flips (total reps)
Med Ball Situp Toss (total reps)
Rope Climb (total reps)
Row (total calories)

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