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The 2010 dietary guidelines are coming ...

June 11, 2010 |  6:50 pm

... so we'll periodically mention a few things that may be changing or that struck us while listening to discussions of the advisory committee whose job it is to help craft them.

So -- bookmark this blog! This is far too exciting to miss!

(A reminder: The dietary guidelines are those bits of eating advice that the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture release every five years after a review of the science by a panel of nutrition experts. The guidelines are used to shape the food pyramid and programs like school lunches.)

One thing the advisory committee for the 2010 dietary guidelines seems ready to dump is talking to the American people about "discretionary calories."

"Discretionary calories" are the ones left over after you've fulfilled all your other nutrient requirements like vitamins, omega-3s, fiber and proteins. The idea is that if you eat prudently you'll still have calories to spare -- ones you can use to splurge on junky foods -- potato chips and sour candy and cake and ice cream and alcohol and other scrumptiou-- I mean, unhealthful things.

The more physically active you are, the more of these calories you have to play with -- because it will take more calories to sustain your current weight.

The concept was put in place when the 2005 dietary guidelines were crafted. But really, it seems fairly unhelpful in our roly-poly country (even though it was presumably intended as a teaching tool). As one of the 2010 committee members noted, it almost implies that discretionary calories are needed -- the committee now is “trying to move away from an allowance suggestion."

Instead, it seems to want us to get a better idea of how many calories we need -- in most cases, it's not the 2,000 calories mentioned in all the nutrition information panels on food packages.

Here's a calorie counter from the American Cancer Society.

And here are calorie charts at webMD.

-- Rosie Mestel

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Comments (3)

Cut out "discretionary calories?"

Oh, good! I'll get to eat more indiscretionary calories!

Jim Purdy

While many components of these guidelines are best synthesis of evidence by the experts, some of the espoused concepts are based on their biases and driven by society trends just as are some fads. It would not be surprising if the concept of discretionary calories comes back into picture in 2015 or 2020 guidelines!

Ms. Mestel -

While it is true that alcohol has been listed as discretionary calories in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines, your classification of alcohol as “junky” and “unhealthful” was not my take away after reading the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report. The Committee rightly underscored that abusive drinking can cause serious health problems and that some people should not drink at all. However, following a comprehensive review of the scientific literature, the Committee equally underscored the potential health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption including the lowest risk of all-cause mortality as compared to abstainers and heavy drinkers, and a significant reduction in diabetes and coronary heart disease risk also compared to those reference groups. As I tell my adult patients, “As with most things in life we enjoy, moderation is the key.”


Raymond Scalettar,
Former Chair of the American Medical Association and medical advisor to the Distilled Spirits Council


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