[EXCERPT: But the bright spot is hard to miss:
The new guidelines devote two full pages to
vegetarian and vegan diets and the health
benefits of following these eating patterns. They
point out that these diets provide nutritional
advantages and reduce obesity, heart disease and
The Miami Herald
© 2011 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.
Posted on Wed, Feb. 02, 2011
New dietary guidelines could save lives
BY SUSAN LEVIN
Every five years since 1980, the government has
given the American public nutrition advice by
updating the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
And every year since then, Americans have become
markedly more overweight.
But the revised advice the government just dished
out could help change this. The just-released
2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans puts a
long-overdue emphasis on vegetarian and vegan
foods and how they can tackle the obesity crisis.
As a dietitian focusing on chronic disease
prevention, I'm thrilled about this new addition
to the guidelines, and I hope Americans take
these recommendations to heart.
Conclusive scientific evidence supports a
low-fat, plant-based diet for optimal health.
Peer-reviewed studies find that people who avoid
meat cut their risk of obesity, diabetes and
heart disease -- the No. 1 cause of death in
America. Researchers have found that low-fat,
plant-based diets can even help reverse type 2
diabetes and heart disease after these diseases
have already set in.
This is not new information, but the federal
government has been extremely slow to accept that
plant-based diets are the healthiest choice for
Americans. Food industry interests have often
gotten in the way of current evidence on
nutrition and health.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines are not perfect. They
still avoid listing foods people need to eat less
of, like meat and cheese, apparently to avoid
upsetting meat and dairy producers. And they
still recommend dairy products even though these
foods are unnecessary and linked to serious
But the bright spot is hard to miss: The new
guidelines devote two full pages to vegetarian
and vegan diets and the health benefits of
following these eating patterns. They point out
that these diets provide nutritional advantages
and reduce obesity, heart disease and overall
Previous advisory panels have noted the value of
vegetarian diets, but the new guidelines are the
first to specifically recommend them. It's
unfortunate that the government waited to take
bold action until the majority of American adults
and one in three children are overweight or
obese, but it's better late than never. The new
guidelines come with a sense of urgency to do all
we can to fight obesity and other diet-related
The diabetes epidemic alone costs the United
States $174 billion a year, including $116 in
direct medical expenses, according to new numbers
from the Centers for Control and Prevention.
Since just 2008, the number of Americans with
prediabetes has increased by nearly 40 percent.
An estimated 25.8 children and adults have
diabetes, and an additional 79 million have
The Dietary Guidelines are renewed every five
years. Imagine what the diabetes numbers will
look like in 2015 if we don't take the new
recommendations seriously. I hope the updated
guidelines quickly translate into stronger
federal nutrition programs with a heavy emphasis
on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
I'm especially hopeful these new recommendations
will motivate the National School Lunch Program
to add more vegetarian options in lunch lines to
help reduce childhood obesity rates.
Despite all the evidence backing the
healthfulness of a plant-based diet, I know the
Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee faced
challenges in updating the guidelines. But I'm
glad committee members acknowledged America's
current state of health and rewrote the
guidelines with our future generations in mind.
Susan Levin is the director of nutrition
education for the nonprofit vegan organization
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in