The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Several of the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 (1) represented important steps in the right direction:

  • The guidelines emphasized the importance of controlling weight, which was not adequately addressed in previous versions. And they continued to stress the importance of physical activity.
  • The recommendation on dietary fats made a clear break from the past, when all fats were considered bad. The 2005 guidelines emphasized that intake of trans fats should be as low as possible and that saturated fat should be limited. There was no longer an artificially low cap on fat intake. Instead the guidelines recommended getting between 20 and 35 percent of daily calories from fats and recognized the potential health benefits of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Instead of emphasizing “complex carbohydrates,” a term used in the past that has little biological meaning, the 2005 guidelines urged Americans to limit sugar intake and they stressed the benefits of whole grains.

Others remained mired in the past:

  • The guidelines suggested that it was fine to consume half of our grains as refined starch. That’s a shame, since refined starches, such as white bread and white rice, behave like sugar. They add empty calories, have adverse metabolic effects, and increase the risks of diabetes and heart disease.
  • In terms of protein, the guidelines continued to lump together red meat, poultry, fish, and beans (including soy products). They asked us to judge these protein sources by their total fat content, and “make choices that are lean, low-fat, or fat-free.” This ignored the evidence that these foods have different types of fats. It also overlooked mounting evidence that replacing red meat with a combination of fish, poultry, beans, and nuts offers numerous health benefits.
  • The recommendation to drink three glasses of low-fat milk or eat three servings of other dairy products per day to prevent osteoporosis was another step in the wrong direction. Of all the recommendations, this one represented the most radical change from previous dietary patterns. Three glasses of low-fat milk a day amounts to more than 300 extra calories a day. This is a real issue for the millions of Americans who are trying to control their weight. What’s more, millions of Americans are lactose intolerant, and even small amounts of milk or dairy products give them stomachaches, gas, or other problems. This recommendation ignored the lack of evidence for a link between consumption of dairy products and prevention of osteoporosis. It also ignored the possible increases in risk of ovarian cancer and prostate cancer associated with dairy products.


1.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005. 6th Edition, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2005. Accessed September 7, 2011.