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Dietary Guidelines: It’s All Greek to the USDA

Unlike the United States, where the agriculture department is the lead agency on formulating dietary recommendations, other countries such as Greece rely on their health department. What do their dietary guidelines look like?

October 31, 2011 |
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Image thanks to ozmafan.


When it comes to formulating dietary recommendations, what happens when there's a conflict between science and commercial interests. When the science says eat less animal fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar, but the meat, dairy, eggs, salt and sugar industries strongly protest any advice to consume less of their produce.

"This puts the USDA in a tough position: if it follows the science, it would violate its duty to promote the agricultural industry; if it protects the industry, it would violate its duty to issue science-based dietary advice," not to mention contributing to the deaths of millions of Americans.

And USDA has sometimes responded to this conflict by choosing industry over science.

Here's an idea: why not have a health agency give health advice?

Why is the agriculture department the lead agency on formulating dietary recommendations? why not the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? Just as many other nations do, the United States could put an appropriate health agency in charge of dietary advice.”

What about countries that actually do have health professionals in charge? What are their recommendations like? Take the Dietary guidelines in Greece. I’m not saying they’re not without bias, but at least they were put together by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, what a concept.

This is what our guidelines could say: Prefer fruits and nuts as snacks, instead of sweets and candy bars—radical! Always prefer water over soft drinks. The USDA could never could never get away with something like that.

Here’s their pyramid. First thing I noticed. Non-refined grains. No pussy footing around. Whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice, whole grains, period. And these guidelines were released back in 1999, when U.S. guidelines didn’t make any distinction at all between whole and refined grains at all. And our guidelines still condone half of grain intake as refined grains. Why? There’s no science to support that; it’s just a big gift to the processed and junk food industry.

What else? Avoid salt. Good strong message; replace with herbs. Nice. Nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day—including wild greens. I'm impressed.

Probably the most important thing about these guidelines is that the daily diet is vegetarian. A few times a week, if you want, according to the guidelines, you can have white meat and at most 3 days a week eggs or candy. And the rest of meat is monthly. One serving a week—that’s 25 times less, than what the current USDA guidelines allow.

And of course, obligatory woman in a bathing suit, because of course that what women wear when they go jogging.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Peter Mellor.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out all the videos on dietary guidelines and industry influence. And be sure not to miss last Monday's blog post Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board accused of illegally deceptive claims. And as always, there are 1,449 subjects covered in my other videos–please feel free to explore them!

For some context, please check out my associated blog posts: Dietary Guideline Graphics: From the Food Pyramid to My Plate, Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate, and PCRM’s Power Plate and Schoolchildren Should Drink More Water