What Foods Should Americans Eat? Better Information Needed on Nutritional Quality of Foods

CED-80-68: Published: Apr 30, 1980. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 1980.

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Americans have a growing desire to select foods that promote good health. With thousands of food products to choose from, food decisions are becoming more difficult for consumers and the Government. In recent decades, the American food supply has changed so that more than half of the public's diet consists of processed foods rather than fresh produce. This comes at a time, when Americans are less active than their counterparts in previous generations and therefore should consume fewer calories and/or be more physically active to maintain an ideal weight.

Although attempts have been made to classify foods as nutritious, low nutritious, or junk foods, no food in isolation from a total diet should be characterized as good or bad. It is the combination of foods which complement each other that forms the basis for a nutritious diet. Thus, a greater Federal effort is needed to help consumers determine what foods and diet are best for their health, and to help Government carry out its food programs consistently and effectively. Additionally, recommended ranges, allowances, or other standards should be established on what is too much or too little intake for controversial food components. But the lack of data on the nutrient content of food limits the decisions that Government and others can make with respect to nutrition research, education, surveillance, labeling, advertising, and food delivery programs. Moreover, the relatively small effort by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and others to increase the output of composition data is attributable to the low priority for performing nutrient analysis of food and the lack of adequate methods for analyzing the nutritional content of foods.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) should: (1) provide the leadership needed to jointly develop and disseminate a set of explicit and generally accepted nutrition principles for aiding consumers, Government, and the food industry in making food and nutrition related decisions; (2) convene a panel of experts, or request that a group be established by an organization such as the Food and Nutrition Board, National Academy of Sciences, to evaluate and recommend any necessary changes on the guidance the USDA/HEW interdepartmental ad hoc committee is developing on intake levels for controversial dietary substances; and (3) convene a panel of experts to develop guidelines on controversial dietary substances if USDA and HEW decide not to issue the guidelines. Additionally, the Secretary of Agriculture should examine the alternatives needed to improve food composition methodology, research, data assembly, analysis, and dissemination; evaluate the USDA priorities regarding food composition data; and place greater emphasis on obtaining timely output of more complete and needed food composition data.

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