PCRM’s Summit on the Dietary Guidelines 2000
On September 18, 1998, PCRM and Georgetown University Medical Center jointly sponsored a major conference which examined what Americans should eat and how the U.S. government’s diet guidelines should be changed. PCRM’s director of nutrition Patricia Bertron, R.D., planned the conference in light of the federal government’s mandated revamping of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in the months leading to the year 2000. Excerpts from the speakers follow.
T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., of Cornell University, on the question of an optimal diet:
“At the time of the China project, we formulated a very broad-based hypothesis: the richer the diet is in the kind and amounts of nutrients provided by foods of plant origin, the lower is the risk of chronic degenerative diseases. Now that’s the kind of hypothesis that traditionally in science is not particularly acceptable. We’re supposed to look at specific things and to find magic bullets. But that’s not the way nature is.”
Mark Messina, Ph.D., of Loma Linda University, on the Food Guide Pyramid’s “Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts Group”:
“Unfortunately, this is often referred to as the ‘meat group.’ According to the USDA, these foods are grouped together because they supply protein, iron, and zinc. But while the foods in this group do have similar nutritional attributes, they are also dissimilar in very important ways. And, in my view, if you choose beans and legumes as your primary source of protein, rather than meat, you will end up with a much healthier diet.”
William Roberts, M.D., of Baylor Cardiovascular Institute, on current recommendations for meat consumption:
“You can’t produce atherosclerosis in a carnivore. You can give a dog or cat all the fat and cholesterol you want, and you can’t produce atherosclerotic plaque. Now, of course, if you take a human being and pour saturated fat and cholesterol in them for several decades, you can produce a lot of atherosclerotic plaque. So I think that tells us what fundamentally we are. We think we’re one of these carnivores and we certainly conduct our lives as if we were, but I would suggest, as have many others, that we are not. Unless we’re willing to understand this, the health of this nation will not improve.”
Connie Weaver, Ph.D., of Purdue University, on choices for calcium:
“The first choice is about how to get calcium in the diet. What are the different ways I can get calcium into the diet? Three-quarters of the calcium in the American diet comes from dairy sources, and not too many other groups provide a substantial amount of calcium. The first plant food that we studied, compared to milk in a crossover design in women, showed that spinach calcium was very poorly absorbed. When you look at plants that have low levels of oxalic acid like kale, bok choi, broccoli, and so forth, then the calcium absorption is quite high.
“Moving on to choice two. Could you consume less calcium, say, if you lowered dietary salt? Every 2.3 grams of sodium excreted in the urine pulls out 40 to 60 milligrams of calcium with it.
“Choice three: Your requirement for calcium is perturbed somewhat by dietary protein, although not nearly as much as by dietary salt. For every gram of protein in a diet, you excrete an additional 1.75 milligrams of additional urinary calcium. On 48 grams of protein per day, your urinary loss of calcium would be 171. Contrast that with twice the level of protein, 96 grams a day. Then urinary loss goes up to 257.
“Your fourth choice is a trivial one scientifically—if you reduce caffeine, you reduce calcium loss. But put it in perspective. If you consume a hamburger with the typical sodium and protein load, you would lose 28 milligrams of calcium in the urine. If you consume one cup of coffee, you lose 2 to 3 milligrams of calcium in the urine.
“So your lifestyle choices do make a large difference with bone.”
Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H., of New York University, on U.S. nutrition policy:
“Every new study that comes out, no matter how confusing it seems, emphasizes the importance of eating a plant-based diet. Whether it’s largely plant-based or totally plant-based is something that people can argue about. But, certainly, a largely plant-based diet is associated with the best health indices, and all the research that comes out continues to support that.”
Suzanne Havala, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., F.A.D.A., of the Vegetarian Resource Group, on commercial issues in nutrition:
“The government recommendations should take into consideration the needs of all people. When political and economic interests factor into dietary recommendations, these in some way should be disclosed.
“When I was in school, we were taught a basic truth that you don’t try to change people’s eating habits. You take them from where they are and do your best to counsel them within the framework of their beliefs and their eating style. I’m not so sure that’s wise. When you try to do that, you end up watering down recommendations and not giving people specific enough information about what they should eat for their best health. We need to tell them what science says is the best diet and then let people choose for themselves what they will or will not eat.”
Antonia Demas, Ph.D., of the Food Studies Institute, on her unique school lunch teaching programs for children:
“After the training, I could see their excitement about learning about the foods. When you put a huge table out in front of people with beautiful variety and colors of food, they smell good, and you get to taste them, and you get to feel them. It’s the way adults learn, as well as the way children learn.”
Milton Mills, M.D., of PCRM, on meeting the needs of all cultural groups:
“When we look at minority groups, up to 95 percent of adult Asians are intolerant of lactose, 74 percent of Native Americans, 70 percent of African Americans, and 53 percent of Mexican Americans, but only 15 percent of Caucasians. We have the U.S. government telling Americans you should eat two to three servings of dairy products every day. But we see that for most minority persons in the United States, this is a totally inappropriate recommendation.
“High blood pressure and stroke are much more of a problem with the African American population. And for some reason, Hispanic women tend to be nearly twice as likely to have heart disease as non-Hispanic women. Among African Americans, we are much more likely to suffer from cancer and to die from it, particularly cancers of the prostate and lung.
“When you look at the diets of African Americans and Hispanic Americans versus Caucasian Americans, they are very similar in protein content, calorie content, fiber content, et cetera. But these diets have more harmful effects among minority populations. Although unintentional, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines as they exist are really a fundamental form of institutionalized racism in a rather destructive and insidious format.”