Every five years the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are updated by the Department of Agriculture, and last week's offering stirred up an interesting mixture of praise and concern from the US food industry.
The clearest message for the industry was the emphasis on calorie counting to manage body weight and the need to choose fats and carbohydrates "wisely" to remain in good health.
These messages were accompanied by the core theme that Americans are still generally consuming too much of everything, though most should up their intake of vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, potassium and fiber, and adults should should additionally stock up on their vitamin A and C.
The Grocery Manufactures of America (GMA) was largely supportive of the guidelines, particularly the fact that calorie-counting formed the central trunk of the guidelines.
"The focus on calories is critical because calories do count," said Mark Nelson, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the GMA. "Maintaining a healthy lifestyle requires that we strike the right balance between how much we eat and what we do to burn calories. To achieve that goal, we must either eat less, move more or - ideally - do both."
Nelson also expressed his satisfaction that the committee recommended that consumers reduce their saturated and trans fats.
"Given the negative impact these fats have on health, GMA's members companies are striving to formulate products that not only have little or no trans fat, but that also have lower levels of saturated fat," he said.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) was satisfied that the 2005 guidelines had, for the first time, taken the relationship between food and cancer into consideration.
However, it was not all praise. The GMA highlighted its concern over the lack of attention given to the "the importance of enriched grains as good sources of micronutrients such as folic acid and iron, which the committee identifies in the report as critical for the health of children and women of childbearing age."
It also felt that the guidelines were restrictive in explaining where consumers could get calcium apart fom the most obvious whole foods and encouraged the committee to look at functional foods.
"The report does not provide recommendations for alternative sources of calcium," said Nelson. "Calcium-fortified foods and beverages are proven alternatives to dairy products for individuals who are lactose intolerant or who choose not to consume dairy products for religious or personal reasons."
The guidelines will now be looked at by the industry and comments submitted to the Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services by 27 September, and the final guidelines will be published in January 2005.
An Associated Press-IPSOS poll carried out in May found that 30 per cent of Americans consider overeating the nation's top health problem, but just 12 percent said they were dieting