myplate dietary guidelines
This year, as they do every five years, federal officials will publish a new version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These periodic updates to federal nutrition guidelines influence everything from school lunches and military meals to public health initiatives and products developed by the food industry.

In theory, these guidelines reflect the latest, most rigorous nutrition research, but, in reality, they tend to peddle lousy and unscientific advice. Most shockingly, recent studies suggest that the guidelines' central recommendation, that people consume lots of carbohydrates but limit fat intake, has probably fueled the chronic disease epidemic.

Responding to new research showing that low-carb, high-fat diets help people stay healthy, the committee that drafts the guidelines is now considering recommending a low-carb dietary pattern. However, at the end of October, committee members announced that the supposedly "low-carb" pattern they were debating would still encourage people to consume almost half of their calories from carbohydrates.

That's not even close to low-carb, and there's no clinical evidence to support it. Unless the committee changes course, the guidelines will continue to give unhealthy dietary advice.

The dietary guidelines have long advised people to gorge themselves on carbohydrates, such as grains and starches, while shunning fat-laden foods, such as cheese. The first set of guidelines, published in 1980, recommended people to "avoid too much fat" and increase calories "from carbohydrates to supply your body's energy needs." The most recent guidelines suggest limiting calories from saturated fats.

The public has indeed adopted these recommendations, much to its detriment. Back in 1965, the public consumed less than 40% of our calories from carbohydrates and about 45% from fats. By 2011, those ratios had shifted drastically. Now, the public gets more than 50% from carbohydrates and only about 35% from fats.

By following these instructions, the public has grown much sicker. Back in the 1960s and '70s, the obesity rate held steady at about 15%. Today, nearly 40% are obese, and, in 2015, more than 7% were diagnosed with diabetes, up from less than 3% in 1980. In total, diabetes diagnoses have cost the nation a staggering $327 billion annually.

Plenty of research indicates carbohydrate-heavy diets are to blame. Consider one study from Tulane University that tracked people on either low-carb or low-fat diets. After a year, people in the low-carb group lost nearly 8 pounds more than those in the low-fat group.

A 15-year study of over 3,300 people found that those who consumed lots of full-fat dairy products, such as whole milk, were 46% less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those who limited their full-fat dairy. Yet another analysis of more than 270 moderately obese people revealed that those on low-carb diets lost more weight than those on low-fat diets.

Low-carb diets can even help reverse diseases such as Type 2 diabetes. In a recent Indiana University study, more than 90% of people with Type 2 diabetes who adhered to a low-carb diet for two years reduced or eliminated their need for insulin. In another recent trial, more than half of the people with metabolic syndrome, a condition that often leads to Type 2 diabetes, got rid of it after following a low-carb diet for just four weeks.

This is why the guidelines' drafting committee may recommend a low-carb diet pattern as a healthy option, but, unfortunately, the committee's potential recommendation, a diet that derives up to 45% of calories from carbohydrates, won't be effective. That limit is far too high. Additionally, it's better to limit the grams of carbohydrates people consume rather than define diets according to percentages.

Each person is different, but research shows that for real improvement to their metabolic health, most people need to consume less than 50 grams of carbohydrates each day, roughly the boundary for the ketogenic diet. Many people, especially if they already have Type 2 diabetes or other illnesses, might have to keep it below 20 grams of carbohydrates daily to see results and make up for reduced calories from carbohydrates by eating more healthy fats, including saturated fats.

The federal dietary guidelines need a major overhaul and not an incremental change if their aim is actually to provide nutritional advice that can improve health. Unfortunately, that doesn't appear likely to happen, at least not soon.

Doug Reynolds is the CEO of LowCarbUSA, a group that organizes conferences on low-carb science. One of its recent publications is Clinical Guidelines for Therapeutic Carbohydrate Reduction.