The Issue

For the past 35 years, the federal government has published the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) —the principal policy guiding diet in the United States—with the goals of promoting good health, helping Americans reach a healthy weight, and preventing chronic disease. Since the introduction of the DGAs, however, there has been a sharp increase in nutrition-related diseases, particularly obesity and diabetes, which the DGAs have been unable to stem. A number of experts have expressed concern about both the science underlying the DGAs as well as the process used to draft them.

“Dietary Guidelines: Are We on the Right Path?” The DGAs are only weakly associated to better health outcomes and reduced risk of chronic disease.
 Joanne Slavin, University of Minnesota, former member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Nutrition and Policy (2012)

“The process under which [the Guidelines] were developed clearly needs enhancing to ensure that Americans are being provided the strongest, most accurate recommendations based on the most rigorous science available.”
— Cheryl Achterberg, Dean, The Ohio State University, former member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, “Rigorous Science Must Decide Dietary Guidelines to Combat Health Epidemics”, Roll Call (2015)

“Government dietary fat recommendations were untested in any trial prior to being introduced.”
Dr. Zoe HarcombeBritish OpenHeart Journal (2015)

Quotes from peer-reviewed journals: Are the U.S. Dietary Guidelines truly the “Gold Standard” of Science?

“Current guidelines that recommend total fat below 30% and saturated fat below 10% of energy intake are not supported by our data.”

  • Mahshid Dehghan, McMaster University, The Lancet, August, 2017, commenting on results from “PURE,” the largest epidemiological study ever conducted.

“My hope is that our results will stop the whole population from feeling guilty if they eat fat in moderation. While very high fat intake—when it accounts for 40% or more of your dietary intake—may be bad, the average fat intake is about 30% and that’s okay. We’re all afraid of saturated fat, but actually we shouldn’t be. Saturated fat in moderation actually appears good for you….The AHA guidelines are not based on the best evidence—saturated fat was labeled as a villain years ago, and the traditional church has kept on preaching that message. They have been resistant to change.”

“Evidence-based medicine has become the bedrock of treatment guidelines, but why does evidence-based medicine not translate into evidence-based policy? Governments and health organisations around the world are advocating salt intake be reduced, but little robust evidence exists to support a reduction in salt for the general population. Indeed, the few randomised controlled trials (RCTs) available have not strongly supported the benefit of salt reduction in normotensive populations.”

“Committee report repeatedly makes recommendations based on observational studies and surrogate end points, failing to distinguish between recommendations based on expert consensus rather than high-quality RCTs. Unfortunately, the current and past U.S. dietary guidelines represent a nearly evidence-free zone.”  

“Despite being controversial recommendations based on weak scientific evidence, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created in 1980 a food pyramid and placed carbohydrates at its base.  This national nutritional experiment contributed, as we know now, to the increased prevalence of obesity.”

“Healthcare is rife with controversy, and the field of nutrition more so than many, characterised as it is by much weak science, polarised opinion, and powerful commercial interests. But nutrition is perhaps one of the most important and neglected of all health disciplines, traditionally relegated to non-medical nutritionists rather than being, as we believe it deserves to be, a central part of medical training and practice. The current state of nutrition research should be a matter of grave concern to those attempting to develop evidence based health and economic policies that truly serves the public interests.”  

“The [USDA] recommended diets are supported by a minuscule quantity of rigorous evidence that only marginally supports claims that these diets can promote better health than alternatives. Furthermore, the NEL reviews of the recommended diets discount or omit important data. There have been at a minimum, three National Institutes of Health funded trials on some 50,000 people showing that a diet low in fat and saturated fat is ineffective for fighting heart disease, obesity, diabetes, or cancer.”

“Important aspects of these recommendations remain unproven, yet a dietary shift in this direction has already taken place even as overweight/obesity and diabetes have increased. Although appealing to an evidence-based methodology, the DGAC Report demonstrates several critical weaknesses, including use of an incomplete body of relevant science; inaccurately representing, interpreting, or summarizing the literature; and drawing conclusions and/or making recommendations that do not reflect the limitations or controversies in the science.”

“It seems reasonable to consider…whether the guidelines can be trusted and whether they have done more harm than good.”

Dietary Guidelines: Are We on the Right Path?” The DGAs are only weakly associated to better health outcomes and reduced risk of chronic disease.


“At the end of this year, the federal government will issue a new set of dietary guidelines, but what’s clear to many in the scientific community is that the dietary guidelines report is not ready for primetime. The process under which they were developed clearly needs enhancing to ensure that Americans are being provided the strongest, most accurate recommendations based on the most rigorous science available.”

“… these guidelines might actually have had a negative impact on health, including our current obesity epidemic. [There’s a] possibility that these dietary guidelines might actually be endangering health is at the core of our concern about the way guidelines are currently developed and issued.”

“Government dietary fat recommendations were untested in any trial prior to being introduced.”

”Despite our evidence-based review lens where we say that food policies are ‘science based,’ in reality we often let our personal biases override the scientific evidence… it may be time for a new approach to dietary guidance in the United States.”  

“The guidelines changed how Americans eat… In place of fat, we were told to eat more carbohydrates… Americans, and food companies and restaurants, listened — our consumption of fat went down and carbs, way up. But nutrition, like any scientific field, has advanced quickly, and by 2000, the benefits of very-low-fat diets had come into question… Yet, this major change went largely unnoticed by federal food policy makers.” 

“I and a team of researchers have studied the data that these guidelines are based on and have come to the conclusion that the data are scientifically flawed. That’s because most of the data on which dietary guidelines are based were gathered by asking people to recall what they had consumed in the recent past—something people are notoriously bad at remembering.”

“The U.S. government has been providing nutrition guidance to the public since 1980. Yet 35 years later their influence on eating habits has been negligible…If policy makers expect to influence Americans’ eating habits… things must change.”

“The low-fat–high-carbohydrate diet, promulgated vigorously by…National Institutes of Health, and American Heart Association…and by the U.S. Department of Agriculture food pyramid, may well have played an unintended role in the current epidemics of obesity, lipid abnormalities, type II diabetes, and metabolic syndromes. This diet can no longer be defended by appeal to the authority of prestigious medical organizations or by rejecting clinical experience and a growing medical literature suggesting that the much-maligned low-carbohydrate–high-protein diet may have a salutary effect on the epidemics in question.”

How did the Dietary Guidelines begin?

The first Guidelines were based on a 1977 Senate report, Dietary Goals for Americans, which was written by a member of the Congressional staff without a background in nutrition or science.

“It was Senator George McGovern’s bipartisan, nonlegislative Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs — and, to be precise, a handful of McGovern’s staff members — that almost single-handedly changed nutritional policy in this country and initiated the process of turning the dietary fat hypothesis into dogma.” — Science Magazine, 2001

The Senate report recommended that Americans consume less fat (particularly saturated fat), less dietary cholesterol, and more grains, fruits and vegetables (carbohydrates). This is the same advice that we have today.

Early reviews, including one by the National Academy of Sciences, cautioned that the evidence on saturated fats and heart disease was not conclusive.

Why are the Guidelines important?

The Guidelines have extraordinary influence on American eating habits.

The advice that you get from your doctors, nutritionists, dieticians or other health professional is very likely to come directly from the Guidelines, since their education is based on the Guidelines. Advice from professional associations (AMA, ADA, etc) also comes from the Guidelines. So even though you may know nothing about the Guidelines, they reach you through your health professionals.

The Guidelines inform government nutrition assistance programs, which touch one in four Americans every month (they are the single-biggest expense at the US Department of Agriculture), including the:

  • National School Lunch Program (NSLP);
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly “Food Stamps”);
  • Special Nutritional Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC);
  • Feeding programs for the elderly

The Guidelines also help determine the content of military rations.

The Guidelines guide FDA regulations on food, including the information on packaging. For example, the Guidelines inform health claims (whether a food can be advertised as “healthy”) and the information listed on the back of the package (the “Nutrition Facts” panel).

In sum, more  Guidelines probably are more influential than any other single factor in determining what Americans eat.


Americans have:

  • reduced consumption of red meat by 17%, eggs by 17%, and butter by 14%
  • increased consumption of chicken by 118% and fish by 38%
  • reduced their consumption of animal (mainly saturated) fats by 16%
  • increased consumption of vegetable oils by more than 90%
  • reduced their consumption of whole milk by 73%
  • increased consumption of low-fat milk by 141%

Americans have reduced saturated fats and increased unsaturated fats (vegetable oils):


(For more information, please see charts (here) on the consumption of meats and other proteins; fats and oils; and dairy)

Is junk food the only problem?

This is not clear. Since 2001, Americans have:

  • cut back on total sugar by 14%;
  • cut back on refined grains by 12%;
  • increased consumption of whole grains by 33%

(To see this information in chart form, click here)

Yet American health has not improved:

Since 1980:



  • The USDA process for ensuring systematic reviews of the literature, called the Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL) has not been used consistently. For example, the 2015 report did not consult the NEL for 67% of the questions requiring a systematic review of the literature.

“The expert report underpinning the next set of US Dietary Guidelines for Americans fails to reflect much relevant scientific literature in its reviews of crucial topics and therefore risks giving a misleading picture…”
British Medical Journal, 2015

All of these factors raise significant questions about whether the best possible evidence is being used to create dietary advice for Americans.

The science is not settled.

On salt:

Throughout its report, the Guidelines recommend cutting sodium without reservations. But research has determined there is a daily minimum salt intake below which there is no additional health benefit, and that salt consumption below that level can harm the health of those with chronic diseases.

“We were told the science was settled. Yet new research suggests that salt is not nearly as dangerous as the government medical establishment has been proclaiming for many decades—and a low-salt diet may itself be risky.”
The Salt Libel, Wall Street Journal (2014)

For more information, click here.

On saturated fats:

Numerous recent review papers (see resources page for more information) have concluded that saturated fats are not as harmful as carbohydrates — yet the Guidelines still recommend a diet that is low in saturated fats and high in carbohydrates.

“However, recent meta-analyses of prospective observational studies did not find a significant association between higher saturated fat intake and risk of CVD in large populations.” — 2015 DGA expert report

“The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease: Are butter, cheese and steak really bad for you? The dubious science behind the anti-fat crusade” —Wall Street Journal (2014)

The scientific report guiding the US dietary guidelines: is it scientific?

“…Several prominent papers … failed to confirm an association between saturated fats and heart disease.” British Medical Journal (2015)

For more information, click here and here.

On caffeine:

Will 2015 Dietary Guidelines For Americans Further The Demonization Of Caffeine?

“Ideally, the Dietary Guidelines should make no reference to caffeine whatsoever. But if they do, the document should not incorporate the DGAC’s unsupported assertion that some sources of caffeine are worse than others. Such statements in the federal government’s most recognized official pronouncement on nutrition will unjustifiably fuel the demonization of caffeine and products that contain it.” Glenn Lammi, Forbes (2015)

On low-fat vs. whole-fat milk:

For decades, the government steered millions away from whole milk. Was that wrong?

“Scientists who tallied diet and health records for several thousand patients over ten years found, for example, that contrary to the government advice, people who consumed more milk fat had lower incidence of heart disease.”
Peter Whoriskey, The Washington Post (2015)

Some key tenets of the Guidlines have been reversed.

The low-fat diet:

“I think we all agree… that low-fat diets are probably not a good idea and they induce dyslipidemia.” — Alice Lichtenstein, DGAC Vice Chair, at a public meeting of the DGAC in September 2014

**Dyslipidemia refers to adverse blood lipids, such as low HDL-cholesterol, increased triglycerides, etc

“…dietary advice should put the emphasis on optimizing types of dietary fat and not reducing total fat.” 2015 DGA expert report

For more information, click here, here, and here.

Caps on cholesterol:

“Previously, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 mg/day. The 2015 DGAC will not bring forward this recommendation because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol… Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”

2015 DGA expert report

For more information, click here.

The Guidelines still present a one-size-fits-all approach to diet.


S3_Infographics_OneSize_Type1_v10 macronutrients (1) (1)

This approach has not changed over time:



A link directly to this section is here.

A one-size-fits-all approach does not provide for nutritional needs that vary by age, gender, genetic background and other factors

When the DGAs were launched in 1980, a report issued that same year by the National Academy of Sciences objected:

“The Board considers it scientifically unsound to make single, all-inclusive recommendations… Needs for energy and essential nutrients vary with age, sex, physiological state, hereditary factors, physical activity, and the state of health. The nutritional needs of the young growing infant are distinctly different from those of the inactive octogenarian…”

Children are of special concern

Children have different nutritional needs than adults. For example:

  • Children need choline for proper brain development
  • Children need fat in milk in order to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins and minerals in milk

The 2015 DGA expert report recommends diets that are nutritionally insufficient:

“The nutrients for which adequacy goals are not met in almost all [recommended dietary patterns] are potassium, vitamin D, vitamin E, and choline.” — Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee,  (Part D, Ch 1, p. 22, lines 827-828)(Appendix E-3.1, Text and Figure 4).

For a complete understanding of the nutritional insufficiency problems in the DGAs, see

The report notes that “underconsumption of the essential nutrients vitamin D, calcium, potassium” are “public health concerns for the majority of the U.S. population” — yet the foods recommended by the DGAs don’t solve this problem.

To meet sufficiency for iron and folate, the DGAs recommend three to five servings a day of fortified, refined grains (such as breakfast cereals).

Yet it’s not clear that nutrients from fortified foods are as “bioavailable”