The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans were unveiled yesterday. Jess Halliday reports on the role supplements have to play and the guidelines' wider implications.
Among 41 individual recommendations, the key messages of the new guidelines focused on calorie control and exercise. Consumers are encouraged to choose foods carefully in order to get the most nutrition out of calories consumed.
Foods from every food group should have a part to play in a healthy, balanced diet - in particular fiber-rich foods, vegetables and whole grains.
While recognizing the sound basis of the guidelines, the National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA) expressed concern that nutritional supplements do not feature prominently enough.
They draw attention to the needs of certain sectors of the community, such as older adults who may need more vitamins B12 or D in their diets. The guidelines do allow for the use of supplements to fill a "nutrient gap" in some cases, but warn that "nutrient needs should be primarily met through consuming foods."
"When it comes to supplements, these guidelines are more ideal than real. Studies confirm that most Americans don't get adequate nutrition through the foods they eat," said David Seckman, NNFA's executive director and CEO.
In September 2004 the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) submitted comments on the draft guidelines urging recognition of the importance of dietary supplements in the final version.
"Not all of our comments are addressed," CRN president Annette Dickinson told NutraIngredients-USA.com, "but we are pleased to note that the final guidelines do highlight some nutrients that are lacking in people's diets".
"They don't recognize the need for everyone to take a multivitamin, but the bottom line is that if you need an assortment of nutrients one way to get them is through a multivitamin," she added.
The US is currently in the grip of an obesity epidemic, with almost two thirds of Americans overweight or obese. While the guidelines do seek to aggressively tackle the epidemic, this is not their sole or primary function.
The science-based advice on how a good diet can promote health and reduce the risk of disease is applicable to all people over the age of two years, no matter what their weight.
"Promoting good dietary habits is key to reducing the growing problems of obesity and physical activity, and to gaining the health benefits that come from a nutritionally balanced diet," said Tommy Thompson, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Adults should engage in 30 minutes minimum intensity exercise almost every day of the week in order to stave off the risk of chronic disease, increasing to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise to prevent gradual unhealthy body-weight gain and 60-90 minutes to sustain weight loss.
Dietary guidelines, now in their sixth edition, are drawn up every five years by the HSS and Department of Agriculture (USDA).
"The process we used to develop these recommendations was more rigorous and more transparent than ever before," said agriculture secretary Ann Veneman.
The three-stage process included a science-based report, comments solicited from agencies and the public and the translation of the guidelines into easy to understand messages for the public and educators.
More than an external public education exercise, the guidelines form the basis of federal food and nutrition education programs. They will underlie the revised Food Guidance System, currently called the Food Guide Pyramid, which is due to be released in the spring.
They also arm health education experts with the latest science-based recommendations.
Cathy Nonas, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and registered dietician, told NutraIngredients-USA.com that she was particularly pleased with the advice on fruit and vegetable consumption, that is two cups of fruit and two-and-a-half cups of vegetables each day for a reference 2000-calorie intake increased or reduced depending on the required calorie level.
"Balanced diets and small portions are the most important," she said. "If you keep to the concept of half your plate in vegetables everything else falls into place."
As for the impact the guidelines will have on America's health, she said: "It's a good message to tell people. It will make people think."
"It will be interesting to see what well-known food companies and fast food outlets do to follow these guidelines," she added.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association issued a statement pledging work with the HHS and USDA to promote the dietary guidelines.
"As the companies that make the foods that consumers know, trust and buy everyday, GMA members are developing and introducing new products that will make it easier to meet the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines," it said.
"We share the government's concern about the quantity of saturated and trans fats in the average American diet. Over the past two years, GMA member companies have reduced or eliminated trans fat in countless products."
In fact, the guidelines do not specify maximum recommended daily trans fat consumption, simply advising "keep trans fat consumption as low as possible".
Thompson explained that the advice has been left general because the FDA is currently reviewing the recommendation on trans fats.
"These guidelines are not static," he said. "They are evolving and are a benchmark of right now and we are looking update them."