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The Government Isn’t About to Tell You to Stop Drinking Now

This year, not even the government is going to try to tell you not to drink. Updated U.S. dietary guidelines go about like you would expect (eat your vegetables and fruits, stop eating so much processed meat and refined grains, etc.). But the guidelinesupdated every five yearsare surprising in one way: they don’t adopt a recommendation from experts to revise down alcohol limits for men.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Human and Health Services (HHS) have the final say on the guidelines. But they take recommendations from a panel of expertswho said in a summer report that men should not drink more than one alcoholic beverage per day. That’s down from saying two alcoholic beverages per day is OK for men, and on par with the drink limit recommended for women.

However, the newly released Dietary Guidelines for Americans do not include this recommended change.

Although “the preponderance of evidence supports limiting … alcoholic beverages to promote health and prevent disease, the evidence reviewed since the 2015-2020 edition does not substantiate quantitative changes at this time,” it says.

The whole thing is sort of silly, as the nutrition content and health effects of alcoholic beverages are highly dependent on what type of drink is being consumed, as well as how quickly, whether it’s with a meal (and what sort), and things like body size, metabolic status, and a host of other personal health factors.

But “sort of silly” is pretty much the mantra of the dietary guidelines, which have always been beholden to business and agricultural interests, nutritional fads, and a whole lot of dubious science, as well as painfully slow to change. “We have the situation where we just cannot reverse out of these policies that were originally based on really weak science,” Nina Teicholzauthor of The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet—told Reason in 2018.

What the 2020 dietary guideline gurus wrote about alcohol isn’t terribly unreasonable, From their executive summary:

Binge drinking is consistently associated with increased risk compared to not binge drinking, and more frequent binge drinking is associated with increased risk compared to less binge drinking. Similarly, among those who drink, consuming higher average amounts of alcohol is associated with increased mortality risk compared to drinking lower average amounts. The Committee concurred with the recommendation of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that those who do not drink should not begin to drink because they believe alcohol would make them healthier. Although alcohol can be consumed at low levels with relatively low risk, for those who choose to consume alcohol, evidence points to a general rule that drinking less is better for health than drinking more.

The committee adds that “there is evidence to tighten [recommendations] for men such that recommended limits for both men and women who drink would be 1 drink per day on days when alcohol is consumed.”

It also recommends that people cut added sugars (a.k.a. those that don’t naturally occur in food)—another update that was rejected.


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