Are the nation’s leading dietary guidelines based on false data?

If you’ve ever seen a food pyramid or the more current breakdown of plates by food groups, you have the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to thank. Since 1985, the HHS has published updated dietary guidelines about once every five years based on changes to the average American’s diet. On the surface, these recommendations seem harmless enough, and the HHS has been gearing up to publish its latest 2015 edition of the guidelines later this year.

It’s easy to take advice on face value, but what if everything you’ve been told about nutrition and cell healthis wrong? That’s the argument put forth by one obesity researcher and several cardiovascular experts from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings. According to lead author Edward Archer, Ph.D., director of the Nutrition Obesity Center at UAB, the upcoming 2015 HHS dietary guidelines compiled data from inaccurate sources, which should make you doubt whether you’re really getting the best nutrition advice.

The problem with surveys

While even slightly inaccurate dietary guidelines are better than none at all, the way in which the HHS has collected data to formulate its 2015 publication caused Archer to take a second look. You might think that there’s a more scientific process behind it all, but as Archer pointed out in a statement accompanying the study, there really isn’t.

Archer explained that the HHS has drawn on data from two wide-ranging surveys, the five-decade long “What We Eat in America” study and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (WWEIA/NHANES). While both programs seek to gain a more comprehensive picture of what the average American eats, Archer alleges that the survey-based way of collecting information is inherently flawed and shouldn’t serve as a scientific basis for national dietary guidelines.

“Our work indicates there is no scientific foundation to past or present U.S. Dietary Guidelines,” Archer said in a statement. “This finding may explain why nutrition recommendations are continually changing and the average consumer is confused as to what constitutes a healthy diet.”

The crux of Archer’s argument lies in the survey-based method of data collection. Known as “memory-based dietary assessment methods,” the strategies employed in the WWEIA/NHANES studies simply asked subjects to describe what they ate over the previous 24-hour period. While crime procedural TV shows have portrayed eyewitness accounts as pivotal to cracking a case, Archer explained that human memory is incredibly subjective and not at all rigorous enough to base an entire nation’s dietary guidelines off of.

Why isn’t memory a good indicator of diet?

While it might be shocking to hear that the foundation of your entire nutritional world could be built on a bed of inaccurate data, there’s solid evidence behind it. Archer noted that the WWEIA/NHANES studies rely entirely on each survey subject’s ability to faithfully and accurately report what he or she ate. However, if you’re talking to a stranger, you’re likely to leave out that candy bar you scarfed down in between lunch and dinner, or you might throw in an extra serving of vegetables here or there to inflate your own ego.

These aren’t major lies, but more like acts of omission and exaggeration. And when each surveyed individual includes a little fibbing in his or her answers, it accumulates into an inaccurate conglomerate of data that is then used to tell everyone else what they should eat.

It’s unclear whether the HHS will respond to Archer’s claims, but they should be enough to cause you to doubt the dietary orthodoxy. Don’t worry, though – with cell health supplements, you can stay healthy without worrying about whether a federal agency can get your nutritional requirements right.