Dietary Guidelines: It’s All Greek to the USDA

Dietary Guidelines: It’s All Greek to the USDA
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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?

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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, egg, salt and sugar industries strongly protest any advice to consume less of their products?

“This put the USDA in a tough position: if it follows the science, it would violate its duty to promote the agricultural industry; if it protected the industry, it would violate its duty to issue science-based dietary advice [not to mention contributing to the deaths of millions of Americans]. The 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 do actually 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 get away with saying something like that.

Here’s their pyramid. First thing I noticed: non-refined grains. No pussyfooting around. Not “choose carbohydrates wisely.” 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 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, three times a week, eggs or candy. And the rest of meat is monthly. One serving a week—that’s like 25 times less meat than what the current USDA guidelines allow.

And of course, obligatory woman in a bathing suit, because of course that’s 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to ozmafan via Flickr

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, egg, salt and sugar industries strongly protest any advice to consume less of their products?

“This put the USDA in a tough position: if it follows the science, it would violate its duty to promote the agricultural industry; if it protected the industry, it would violate its duty to issue science-based dietary advice [not to mention contributing to the deaths of millions of Americans]. The 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 do actually 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 get away with saying something like that.

Here’s their pyramid. First thing I noticed: non-refined grains. No pussyfooting around. Not “choose carbohydrates wisely.” 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 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, three times a week, eggs or candy. And the rest of meat is monthly. One serving a week—that’s like 25 times less meat than what the current USDA guidelines allow.

And of course, obligatory woman in a bathing suit, because of course that’s 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to ozmafan via Flickr

Doctor's Note

Be sure to check out all my other videos on dietary guidelines and industry influence. And be sure not to miss my associated blog post: Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board accused of making illegally deceptive claims

For more context, also 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.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

11 responses to “Dietary Guidelines: It’s All Greek to the USDA

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  1. 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!




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  2. What shower filter(s) do you recommend (I am based in NYC and, like other US cities, the water supply has excessive chlorine, bromine, and fluorine). Or, what shower filters are recommended by other reputable, unbiased sources?




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  3. i could watch your videos for the laughs alone!
    you are a very prolific man dr. greger and i appreciate the time you must spend compiling all of this information and making these fantastic videos!
    being greek myself i thank you for even this minimal praise for my country. 




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  4. I loved this post!!! When I was in college for a standard nutrition degree, it was so very difficult to answer test questions on the subject of our dietary guidelines. I was constantly feeling like I was answering in a unethical manner. Our system is incredibly wrong and it saddens me. I hope and pray it changes! Websites like this one gives me great hope!!! Thanks Dr. McGregor!!




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  5. I’m (vagan) greek . Greeks consume meat more than 2-3 times a week, and dairy every day (a looot of dairy). At my schools refectory has meat every day!




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    1. Wonder if the greek guidelines have changed since this video was made or whether schools and most people just don’t listen to health recommendations/guidelines? Good luck navigating through the web of lies/misinformation. Lucky Nutritionfacts is here though!




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