Fran Katz

On May 27, 2000, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services published a new set of guidelines for the diets of Americans.

The 5th edition of Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans is based on the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee chaired by Cutberto Garza. It presents three basic messages: Aim for Fitness, Build a Healthy Base, and Choose Sensibly. Ten guidelines are included. They are simple, and may be more memorable for what they don’t say—meat and other animal- based foods aren’t even mentioned in the ten guidelines on the front of the publication.

How Food Technologists React to the New Dietary Guidelines for AmericansThe publication appears to be more about lifestyle than diet: it emphasizes measuring and evaluating body mass index, looking at risk factors for chronic disease, and managing weight. The recommendation for managing weight includes information about portion sizes, noting that many foods are sold in double-portion size and that consumers should be careful about this trend.

Nutrition and food are rather glossed over in the early part of the publication. On page 11, calcium for bone health is mentioned, but the main mention in that part of the guidelines is exercise. On page 14, suggestions for eating a good diet are based on the Food Guide Pyramid, which was introduced in 1996. Alternative diets, such as vegetarian diets, are noted: “Vegetarian diets can be consistent with the Guidelines for Americans, and meet Recommended Dietary Allowances for nutrients.” On page 39, the bulletin recommends using plant-based foods as the foundation for meals, and again warns consumers to watch serving sizes. A presentation of the nutrition facts label is included, and a discussion of nutrients in foods and supplements tends to discourage the use of supplements and encourage use of plant-based foods. Sources of specific nutrients in foods are discussed, and variety in fruits and vegetables is particularly encouraged. Sugar and fat are to be consumed in small amounts as special treats. 

Food safety is included in the discussion of diet, and there are recommendations for those at risk for immune system damage. It would be surprising if consumers who are aware of the guidelines continue to consume unpasteurized juices, raw milk, or raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, fish, or shellfish. Food handling instructions are included. 

In the Choose Sensibly section of the guidelines, a comparison of saturated fats in foods recommends choosing specific foods that are lower in saturated fats than similar foods, e.g., frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, bagels instead of croissants. A section on choosing and preparing foods with less salt recommends using fresh or frozen meat, seafood, and poultry instead of processed products, but notes that not all people experience blood pressure elevation when they consume higher levels of salt. 

General discussions about the possible effect of the Dietary Guidelines suggests that consumers may further reduce consumption, may become more careful about food choices, and might decide that they should exercise more. Followup may be another thing entirely. But one portion of the Dietary Guidelines that may become an issue is the suggestion that consumers should “keep food safe to eat.” The likelihood that consumers will react to food safety issues is high—it’s easier to understand, and may be an arena in which food producers can take steps to put consumers’ minds at ease. 

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How Food Processors React
How do food processors react to the new Dietary Guidelines? Is sufficient information offered to allow them to develop new products that fit these recommendations for better eating, or should food companies simply go into the athletic shoe business? How will the recommendations to eat less play in the food segment? 

“Won’t make much difference,” said Craig Bacon, Director of Research & Development for Tyson, Inc. He noted that Tyson’s research indicates that most consumers—particularly men—believe that they eat in a manner that is consistent with the Pyramid, while the reality of consumption is that consumers are heavy on the sugar and fat components. But as long as consumers believe they’re following the Pyramid, there is less likelihood of overall change. “People need protein to feel comfortable,” Bacon said. “If they’ve eaten a salad at lunch, chances are they’ll hit the vending machine around 3:00 p.m., and that’s when the eating pattern gets trashed.” 

Tyson won’t change its development programs much on the basis of the Dietary Guidelines, according to Bacon. Poultry products developed for use in foodservice are particularly important to Tyson, and the company is looking at ways to decrease breading and fat addition. But most of all, it is looking for innovative ways to offer tasty poultry products to consumers. Good and “good for you” are messages to present, good-tasting first. 

Carol Sinople, Development Specialist for Sara Lee, noted that changes in the Sara Lee product development program that affected her had already been in the works before the publication of the Dietary Guidelines. She has been specializing in “bite-size” products, particularly cheesecake bites, and is now working on other bite-size goodies. People like dessert (after all, “Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee!”), and the bite-size portions permit consumers to more easily determine how much they need to eat to satisfy the sweet tooth. 

Dick Willits, Vice-President of Research for Sargento Foods, noted that the Dietary Guidelines weren’t really on his radar screen any more after they were published than they had been before. “We’re dealing largely with consumer wants, not needs, and there’s a lot of denial out there.” Consumers are interested in terrific flavor, he said, and will eat healthful products if they taste great. “And people think they eat better than they do, for the most part.” 

Mary Wagner, Vice President of Research and Quality Control at Taco Bell, Inc., commented on just how difficult it is to introduce reduced serving sizes in the fast-food side of the business. “Consumers expect to take a doggy bag home. They want a lot of food, and they want conventional tastes and textures that are fresh and good.” Taco Bell features a lot of vegetables in its foods, which fits with the Dietary Guidelines and did so long before the guidelines were published. Wagner also commented on the special care that the company takes to ensure food safety, a feature of the Dietary Guidelines. Virtually all of the vegetables served in Taco Bell products have been precut and sanitized. “We don’t take a chance,” she noted. “We don’t want room for error.” Meat is precooked and held at strictly observed temperatures. The chain uses minimal fat in the products. Although an introduction of one product in the “light” genre didn’t fly, the company has simply continued to keep fat at a reasonable level, and hopes to hold the line on serving size. 

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Basic Research for Diet Improvement
Where is the basic research coming from to permit companies to provide foods that fit the reduced total calorie, reduced fat, easy on the salt, nutrient dense, and safe profile that appears to be the theme of the Dietary Guidelines? There is continued interest in developing ingredients that assist food processors in providing those foods. 

With regard to companies looking for ways to enhance nutrition, Vishwa Singh, Roche Vitamins’ Director of Human Nutrition Research, described the firm’s work in developing and testing nutrient clusters: calcium plus vitamins E and D, iron plus B vitamins, and other nutrient combinations that complete the nutrient package. Singh’s work in developing nutrient clusters to prevent disease and increase healthiness includes significant work on bone health, vision, and cardiac health. Roche’s support and interaction with the Johns Hopkins Sight and Life Institute has led the company to particular interest in vitamin A and its use in preventing blindness in developing countries, as well as research into preventing visual problems in developed countries facing increasing numbers of elderly persons. 

Kenneth Smith, Director of Procter & Gamble Co.’s Miami Valley Laboratories, works on “upstream” research for new P&G initiatives. He notes that his firm is following Food and Drug Administration and USDA pronouncements closely, and reacting to the Dietary Guidelines. Consumers, Smith said, are confused about what is fortification and what is supplementation, and his projects depend heavily on what science can offer in terms of benefits to consumers of proprietary products. 

Marianne Gillette, Director of Sensory Development for McCormick & Co., commented that most of the companies looking for new ingredients are looking for bigger, better, more robust flavors and ethnic flavors with increased sophistication, such as regional Asian, regional Mexican, and regional Italian. Consumers and manufacturers are also interested in more unique texture, she said. The only arena in which nutrition is paramount is school lunch products, which have clear guidelines that were in place well before the new Dietary Guidelines were published. She feels that consumers are confused by the abundance of nutritional perspectives and are sending the clear message that they are going to eat pretty much the way they want, until all of the agencies and scientists can agree on a simpler scheme. The problem, according to Gillette, is that consumers have a variety of responses to the nutritional media, ranging from strict vegetarianism, to supplementation, balanced diets, and extreme diets. Most folks are figuring out their own interpretation of what is going to work for them, she said. 

Gillette noted that there remains interest in nutraceutical foods and beverages, mostly centering on use of soy ingredients this year, but there is also some interest in fortification with calcium and antioxidants. Consumers and the food segment have all embraced the message about fortification, about fewer calories, and about less fat. Food safety is one area of concern to consumers, she said, and that area is being carefully considered by formulators, to ensure that a product can be served in a safe form wherever it is served. Safety, beyond design, is a matter for company operations teams, and they are being extremely careful. 

Mark Matlock, Senior Vice-President of Food Research for ADM, commented that the firm’s major objective for the short term is soy fortification: developing foods that can comfortably contain 6.5 g of soy ingredient in a wide variety of food products, including foods for school lunch programs. The 6.5 g is necessary to permit a soy health claim on the label. But this objective was well underway before the Dietary Guidelines document was published. The firm is looking at reducing trans fatty acids, and developing uses for its high-oleic sunflower oil.

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What Will Producers Do?
So, what will food producers do to support the new Dietary Guidelines? Unlike the major activities that followed the first eating Pyramid, the new guidelines are primarily after-the-fact. Most consumers know that reduced fat consumption may be beneficial, and the Dietary Guidelines continue to emphasize reducing fat content of the diet. Food professionals are working on the fat content and using the kinds of fats that are most appropriate, and that’s a long-term project. 

Consumers know they should eat more fruits and vegetables and more whole grains. From the patents that are being issued for fruit, vegetable, and grain products, scientists in industry are finding better ways to include more nutrition, whether through plant breeding, bioengineering, or fortification. Products are being formulated with vegetables and fruit as garnishes and major components, and more whole grains are being used. 

Consumers also know that nutrients, such as calcium, are important in avoiding specific conditions, and they are also aware that they probably don’t get enough calcium, iron, and antioxidant vitamins. Fortification with calcium and antioxidants has continued, and basic research is actively involved with finding better ways to apply these nutrients. 

Two areas that may gain visibility are energy beverages and “healthy” bars. While there isn’t a lot of comment about increased popularity of bars, that segment is a growing business, and a segment whose products are being acquired by major companies. Both products suggest a healthy lifestyle, and seem to “fit” with the increased exercise that is recommended. 

The Dietary Guidelines may support some of the positions of food professionals: they emphasize that food alone isn’t the cure-all for or the cause of obesity. The document may emphasize the need for making strategic choices in developing a personal diet pattern, and may encourage more people to read the label. By emphasizing a controlled intake of calories, it’s easy to determine that total food consumption won’t skyrocket, and that the battle will be for market share. Sensory attributes, including flavor and texture, will continue to be the most important characteristics, but nutritional input may play an important role among a growing number of consumers. Preference in nutrient content may change the market share picture, if the taste and price are about equivalent. 

Food safety will remain important, and probably grow more crucial. While the guidelines indicate that consumers should take control of food safety, it’s likely to be thrown back to processors and foodservice operators to manage. There will be continuing interest in means of controlling foodborne organisms, and managing bacteriology past the point at which the consumer receives the food. 

The downside may be the further erosion of “no good foods, no bad foods” as an operating principle, and more confusion for the consumer. It’s hard to get excited about a document that directs consumers to consume less, but a healthier population may prove to be a more useful group of consumers. The guidelines do not appear to recommend much change, and possibly reiterating constant choices instead of “diets” may be more useful in controlling additional weight and chronic disease. The recommended intake of total fat is given as 30% of calories, as it was in the previous Dietary Guidelines publication (4th edition, 1995), but the implication is that lower fat is better. The guidelines themselves are rather nonspecific, recommending moderation and variety of foods, healthy living, and exercise. 

So the news for the food sector is to continue to improve processes and formulations where appropriate, and help consumers avoid foodborne illness and excess, while keeping the excitement at the table.

An electronic version of the fifth edition of Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Home and Garden Bulletin 232) can be accessed via the Internet at