Years of good, solid scientific research has gone into the governmental guidelines on food and nutrition. These guidelines summarize huge quantities of nutrition research and put it into straightforward, understandable terms. It’s easy to be confused by all the diet books and articles that surround us, but it’s hard to go wrong following the government’s nutritional guidelines.
Sure, politics sometimes get mixed up in this-the meat and dairy industries, for example, lobby against any suggestion that we should eat less of their products. Soda and fast food companies lobby for looser nutrition guidelines that make their products seem more acceptable. There are all sorts of groups that try to influence these guidelines, but in spite of this, the committees that update them stick to the scientific evidence and produce reliable recommendations. This is why, in spite of heavy lobbying by many groups every time the guidelines are updated, the government’s dietary recommendations change little from year to year. Most of the basic science behind the recommendations is well-tested and has only become more solid over the years. If you want a more in-depth look at the politics involved in the food pyramid and the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines, I recommend “Food Politics,” by Marion Nestle.
The fact is, the government’s food and nutrition guidelines are held to much stricter standards than commercial books and programs are. The writer of a best-selling diet book, for example, doesn’t have to support his fabulous new program with any kind of science. Diet books are constitutionally protected “free speech;” the author is allowed to express his or her opinion on nutrition, politics, religion, or anything without government censorship. Some food and nutrition authors base their ideas on solid science, and some don’t; without some solid foundation to rely on, it’s hard to tell whose ideas to trust. The government’s published guidelines, however, do have to be well established and based on science. This makes them a trustworthy tool for deciding which diet books and articles to believe in.
There seems to be a continual flood of new diet programs and articles on what to eat and what not to eat. We’re surrounded by “health experts” who contradict each other. One day we’re told that carbohydrates make us fat; the next day we find out that the fiber in whole grains keeps us thin. Some diets tell us to cook everything; some diets tell us to eat as much raw food as possible. The more confused we get, the more books and supplements and special “super foods” we buy, and who benefits but the people who sell us these things? In the midst of all this confusion, the government’s guidelines remain simple and stable year after year: eat whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; stay active; don’t eat too many fats and sweets; try to maintain a stable weight. In spite of its flaws, the government does its best to provide sensible guidelines that regular people can follow. When it comes to taking care of your health, these guidelines are a great place to start.