Industry News - PM

Last minute, closed-door meeting yanks meat from healthy diet recommendations

By Rita Jane Gabbett on 12/31/2014

Now you see it; now you don’t.

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) is calling foul over a last-minute, closed-door meeting of a portion of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) that removed lean meat from foods recommended for a healthy diet.

The Dietary Guidelines, which are expected to be finalized next year, will inform nutrition policy in this nation.

During a Dec. 15 open meeting on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, the committee presented a slide made available to Meatingplace that described common components of dietary patterns associated with positive health outcomes as:

  • Higher intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish/seafood, legumes, lean meat and nuts
  • Moderate intake of alcohol
  • Lower consumption of red and processed meat
  • Low intake of sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.

After that slide was presented, debate emerged over the definition of lean meat. The committee then recessed for an 80-minute lunch meeting during which a subcommittee agreed to remove “lean meat” from the list of foods that promote health. The full committee then returned and later declared that it had voted to approve as its final recommendations for a healthy dietary pattern, a diet:

  • High in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lower-fat dairy, seafood, legumes and nuts
  • Moderate in alcohol
  • Lower in red and processed meats
  • Low in added sugars (not more than 10 percent of total energy)
  • Low in refined grains

The committee also recommended that, as part of a healthy dietary pattern:

  • Saturated fat not exceed 10 percent of total energy (emphasizing substitution of polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats)
  • Limiting sodium intake to not more than 2,300 mg per day
  • Calories to meet energy needs and to achieve and maintain ideal body weight

“The omission is stunning,” NAMI Vice President for Scientific Affairs Betsy Booren told Meatingplace. “By not including it, they are completely ignoring any nutritional value that lean meat has to the population.”

The move is also a change from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, which included lean meat as a component of a dietary pattern associated with positive health outcomes. The 2010 guidelines also recommended that women capable of becoming pregnant should consume foods that supply heme iron, i.e. meat and poultry.

“The committee’s ‘about face’ concerning the lean meat issue calls into question whether scientific evidence has been adequately considered and whether the DGAC recommendations will be based more on opinions and impressions than scientific evidence,” NAMI wrote in an 11-page response. “There is a risk that the foods chosen to replace lean meat and poultry will be less nutrient dense, especially as protein foods are the only foods consistently consumed at recommended levels. Reducing or limiting nutrient dense lean meats and increasing nutrient poor foods could have serious, adverse consequences.”

NAMI also noted that data from the DGAC Nov. 7 meeting demonstrated strong and consistent evidence from a majority of randomized control trials that red and processed meats consumption is part of healthy dietary patterns. Further, all trials indicated that “gold standard” Mediterranean-style diets reported red and processed meat consumption at or above the usual adult consumption range, which is higher than USDA Food Patterns (median consumption up to twice the USDA Food  Patterns).

After the Dec. 15 meeting, interested parties were given until Dec. 30 to comment, even though the committee stated at that meeting it had already approved the recommendations posted after the lunch break as final.  Those final recommendations are expected to be published in the Federal Register in the next 30 days, after which interested parties will again have 45 days to comment.

NAMI also sent its comments to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Matthews Burwell. Ultimately, it will be these two agencies that decide whether or not to implement the DGAC recommendations as presented. Booren said she expects those decisions to be made in the fourth quarter of 2015.

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