WASHINGTON -- Many of us may have grown up with dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but one clinical biochemist warns it was bad nutrition advice from the federal government that has long put our health out of whack.

  • Cato Institute report: USDA guidelines warned against fats
  • Dietary guidelines originated in the 1970s
  • Says government is too influenced by corporate interests

"Ever since 1977 when the American government through the Senate Committee told us to stop eating fat and start eating carbohydrates, we know now that was bad advice," said Terence Kealey, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, a nonprofit think tank that advocates free markets, individual liberty and limited government. 

Kealey says there is a reason the now disbanded Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs issued those guidelines.

"There was a real epidemic of heart attacks. In 1977, a third of all deaths in this country were caused by heart attacks, twice as many people were dying from heart attacks as from cancer. They believed that it was possibly due to the consumption of too much saturated fat, too many fats from meats and animals," Kealey said.

Kealey argues this all had dire consequences.

"The increase in carbohydrates consumption in this country caused almost immediately the increase in obesity and the increase in Type 2 diabetes," said Kealey.

According to decades of his research, the government is too influenced by corporate interests to continue being involved in telling the American public what foods to eat and what to avoid.

"There is a tension between the needs of agriculture and the needs of health. If the farmers had their way, we'd all sit down having 17,000 calories for breakfast because of course it would mean that they have earned all of this money selling their food," said Kealey.

The USDA/DHS guidelines are issued every five years. At nearly 150 pages, many aspects of it are not very controversial, including limiting calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reducing sodium intake. Kealey wants Congress to direct the agencies to stop issuing the guidelines but if they stop doing it, who should?    

"There are dozens of medical schools, Departments of Nutrition and other really authoritative bodies in this country that can and should give dietary advice, and we should leave it to a free market of ideas," said Kealey.

We reached out to the USDA and HHS about Kealey's research. They did not comment on his work specifically, but the USDA pointed out that Congress mandates the agencies publish these guidelines and they defended them, telling us the guidelines can help to improve the health of Americans by encouraging healthy choices.