History and Benefits of Diets U.S. Senate Dietary Guidelines

About the history and benefits of the U.S. Senate dietary guidelines.


U.S. Senate Dietary Guidelines

The Head Man: As chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota, former Democratic presidential hopeful and a leading liberal in Congress, saw his role as akin to that of the U.S. surgeon general who condemned smoking as a threat to health. Six out of the leading 10 causes of death in this country, McGovern pointed out, are linked to diet. But when the McGovern committee report came out in January, 1977, after nine years in the making, its conclusions--that cholesterol-rich foods may be as dangerous to health as cigarettes--aroused such a controversy that an amended report was issued 11 months later. The committee was originally conceived as a bridge between health and welfare interests on the one hand and food and farm interests on the other, but its initial recommendations on national nutrition--the first ever by any branch of the U.S. government--seemed to promote the former at the expense of the latter. The revised report made concessions to the meat, dairy, salt, and sugar industries and to the American Medical Association.

Overview: Dietary Goals for the U.S. (1977) was intended as a set of guidelines to nutrition rather than as a particular formula for losing weight. As far as dieting is concerned, the committee concluded that calories do count, that caloric intake must be reduced below maintenance needs in order to lose weight, and that no diet yet invented offers a surefire solution to obesity. On the contrary, testimony before the committee indicated that only 10% to 20% of individuals on diet programs actually solve their weight problems. The rest bounce up and down in what nutritionist Jean Mayer calls "the rhythm method of girth control."

In general outline, the McGovern committee recommended increased consumption of complex carbohydrates and naturally occurring sugars, from 28% of caloric intake in the average U.S. diet to 48%; reduction of refined and processed sugar intake by about half, to 10% of total calories; and reduced consumption of fat, from 40% to 30% of intake; with protein making up the final 12%. (The committee's original recommendation to eat less meat was modified in the final report to decreasing consumption of animal and saturated fats.)

More specifically, the committee advised limiting salt consumption to 5 grams daily (up from 3 grams in the original report) and cholesterol to 300 milligrams daily. Senator McGovern also expressed concern over the rapidly growing use of soft drinks, which during the 1970s replaced milk as the second most frequently consumed beverage (after coffee).

Pro: On a national level, lower fat and protein consumption and greater reliance on complex carbohydrates would promote health, reduce medical expenditures, and conserve some of the energy involved in food processing. At the level of the family, cutting back on expensive meat and processed products in favor of fresh vegetables would result in considerable savings.

Con: By the same token, these changes would have a significant negative impact on the meat-and food-processing industries. As far as the advised nutritional balance affects the individual dieter, the editors of Consumer Guide point out that in the recommended 1,200 calories you would not be getting enough protein to meet basic needs and should therefore take some of your carbohydrates in the form of high-protein legumes.

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