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The New
“Beverage Guidance System”
Continuing the Attack on Pleasure, Variety and Choice
(Or Water, Water Everywhere and Its all That We Should Drink!)
Sounding more like an updated version of Star Wars Defense than dietary
recommendations, the newly proposed “Beverage Guidance System” further propels us
down the path towards removing pleasure, variety and choice from the our already
anxiety-ridden relationship with food. Motivated primarily by “the large increase in
unhealthy weight patterns in the United States over the past 20years,” the new “Guidance
System”, combined with the recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans,
completes the transition of U.S. dietary recommendations from their original focus on
adequate nutrition for good health to being primarily a weight loss diet for the population.
Of course, as with all externally prescribed diets, this one is long on “less ofs”
“shouldn’ts” and “don’ts.” Using a pitcher instead of a pyramid, the Guidelines lay out a
6-tiered, color-coded, prescriptive approach to determining the daily intake of beverages
for Americans. Of course, the assumption is that people do not have the innate capability
of deciding for themselves what and how much to drink – the result being – poor health
and the fattening of America.
The most dangerous culprits being singled out by the “System” are, not
surprisingly, soda pop and highly sweetened fruit drinks. However, all fruit juices and
sports drinks are now added to the list of undesirable fluids for ingestion – and whole
milk and fruit smoothies are singled out as being particularly problematic.
So, with all the no-no’s, what should we drink? According to the experts it would
be best if “ >60%, if not 100%, of fluid needs are provided by calorie-free beverages.” –
read water and unsweetened coffee and tea. Interestingly, the experts are okay with up to
24 ounces of alcohol a day, considerably more than the permitted 16 ounces of skim milk
and three times the permitted amount of fruit juice allowed. Also interestingly, although
perhaps not surprisingly, the most highly recommended drink besides water is tea.
Unsweetened tea has no calories and the study was paid for by the Lipton Tea Company,
which is now using the study to market its products.
While perhaps intuitively appealing, the contention that consumption of these
contraband drinks leads to unhealthy weight gain actually flies in the face of the scientific
evidence. The majority of studies have failed to find a significant positive relationship
between their intake and obesity or weight gain. (ref – 3 articles)
Even if a link between these beverages and obesity were to be found, the new
recommendations are prescriptive, restrictive, and confusing and it is unlikely that
consumers will take the time or energy needed to adhere to them. There are 6 different
levels of beverages (color-coded of course). Appropriate quantities for individuals are
based not only on their color code, but also on recommended portion sizes. And these
portion sizes are also based on each individual’s percentage of daily caloric requirements
(10-15% of total calories). Furthermore, the liberal recommendations for tea and coffee
consumption have to be tempered by the amount of caffeine ingested (no more than 400
milligrams per day). Finally, to make matters even more complex, there are actually two
sets of guidelines (two separate pitchers) one for suggested and one for acceptable
beverage consumption, each with different recommendations for the various levels.
One potential solution to simplify the process and to enhance national health at
the same time would be to install the new “Beverage Guidance System” on all
refrigerators sold to the public. All liquids would be dispensed from an onboard, factoryinstalled, carefully monitored and controlled central brain. In order to access beverages,
consumers would punch in their projected caloric intake for the day and then make their
specific beverage requests.
Get up in the morning and want a big (12 or even 16 ounces!) glass of premium
orange juice to start the day? Punch in your request and a voice (take your pick when
purchasing the refrigerator between an expert, scolding male health professional and a
more motherly, soothing female voice) will answer. “Sorry, only 8 ounces of this liquid
are permitted daily – please make another request. Unsweetened coffee or tea would be a
better alternative.” Want a tall glass of milk with your sandwich at lunch? “Sorry, you
already used up half your milk quota with your cereal this morning. How about a tall
glass of water instead, or perhaps a cup of unsweetened tea or a can of beer?” Requests
for the most dangerous drinks would be met with a variety of comments (these could be
pre-programmed depending on individual tastes in motivational style) from “Perhaps you
should rethink that request” to “Do you really want to drink that?, to Don’t do it fatty,
you are busting out of your pants!
These may sound like drastic measures but don’t drastic times require drastic
measures? Perhaps, but just maybe there is another alternative that might work even
better. What if we focus our recommendations on moderation and variety, along with
some basic nutrition information and then leave it up to people to decide what they want
to drink? What if we trust that people actually do care about their health and are willing
to make changes when they feel it is in their best interest. And what if we take the 40,000
dollars spent on concocting this latest attempt to control our personal lifestyle choices
and use it to help build a couple of habitat for humanity homes?
Jon Robison PhD, MS
Michigan State University