USDA, HHS leave lean meat in finalized dietary guidelines

USDA, HHS leave lean meat in finalized dietary guidelines

Agencies release final dietary guidelines based on guidance from advisory committee, public comment

USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services early Thursday released the final Dietary Guidelines for Americans guidance for 2015-2020, suppressing controversy over the draft guidelines' treatment of meat and direction on sustainability.

Related: Dietary guidelines near completion

In the draft document, ag groups balked on wording that suggested a healthy diet should be "higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and 116 nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar- sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains."

Agencies release final dietary guidelines based on guidance from advisory committee, public comment (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The key concern was that lean meat was included only in a footnote below the description, a location that groups said wasn't prominent enough, given the nutrients that meat provides.

"Meat and poultry products are among the most nutrient dense foods available," Meat Institute President and CEO Barry Carpenter said Thursday. "They are rich sources of complete protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins, and many peer reviewed studies show the contributions they make to healthy diets and the potential deficiencies that can occur when people exclude animal proteins.

"The Dietary Guidelines confirm that a variety of dietary patterns can be followed to achieve a healthy eating pattern. Consumers who choose to eat meat and poultry, as 95% of Americans do, can continue to enjoy our products as they have in the past."

Groups also were concerned about the advisory committee's assertion that a diet higher in plant-based and lower in animal-based foods would be more environmentally sustainable, though comments from HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in October suggested recommendations on sustainability wouldn't be in the final document.

Environmental groups weren't pleased with that outcome Thursday, citing the "huge health and environmental costs of diets high in factory farmed meat," according to the Friends of the Earth group.

Related: Vilsack: Sustainability 'doesn't belong' in final nutrition guidelines

"The administration has clearly put the financial interests of the meat industry over the weight of the science and the health of the American people," the group said.

Ultimately, the guidelines offer five major suggestions: Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan; Focus on variety, nutrient-dense foods, and amount; Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake; Shift to healthier food and beverage choices; and support healthy eating patterns for all.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 can be found on the HHS website.

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