John Block: Dietary Guidelines

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

I asked a couple of friends of mine in Illinois and Kansas – what do you think of the newly released Dietary Guidelines? Their answer – what Dietary Guidelines? The public is not paying much attention while the issue has had wide discussion here in Washington, D.C. Every five years, the federal government updates the Dietary Guidelines on what you should eat (how much) and what you should not eat. We published the Dietary Guidelines when I was Secretary of Agriculture.

Without question, five years of research on healthful eating can change, and it has – at least a little. The new Dietary Guidelines have opened the door to a little more salt, but less sugar. I am on my second cup of coffee. The new Dietary Guidelines say that I can have five cups with no risk. I’m not sure I want five cups. But, it’s clear to me that caffeine is not a problem. The old Dietary Guidelines told us to consume no more than 300 mg per day of cholesterol. That hurt the egg business. No more. Eat your eggs. Stick to low fat dairy and you will live a healthier life. A very positive piece of dietary advice is that the Dietary Guidelines do not tell Americans to cut back on processed or red meat. This is a win for the meat industry.

These Dietary Guidelines were developed by a 15-member Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Their recommendations did not look favorably on red meat. However, the science against meat is not settled. Their rejection of meat had more to do with the environment and global warming than dietary health.

The Congress and the Ag industry pressured Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and HHS Secretary Burwell to ensure the official Dietary Guidelines stick to their legal objective – dietary health.

Nothing new – the Dietary Guidelines tell us to eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and a wide variety of proteins. Secretary Vilsack said, “American families don’t need to make huge fundamental changes.” I agree.

Although most citizens do not know nor care much about the Dietary Guidelines, they do make an impact. All government feeding programs, school lunches, and public health advisors pay attention to the Dietary Guidelines.

Oh, I almost forgot one vital piece of advice. Help yourself to one or two glasses of red wine. It’s O.K.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill. If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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