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Soda Taxes vs Dietary Guidelines: Which Can Best Improve Our Diets?

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN

Are you one of the millions of people who eagerly awaited the release of each new Harry Potter book over the past 20 years and snatched up a copy to read as soon as it came out? That sort of describes how registered dietitian nutritionists, like me, feel about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). A new edition is published every five years to provide health professionals and policy makers with the latest nutrition science to guide our eating advice for the nation.

I know that probably doesn’t sound as exciting as a day at Hogwarts Academy, but it supplies me with many of the tricks of the trade I need to do my job!

The most recent edition of the DGA was published this year, so it’s still fresh on my mind. A key message throughout the 200+ page document is the importance of dietary patterns over single foods or nutrients in determining diet quality.  The DGA define dietary patterns as:

“...the quantities, proportions, variety or combinations of different foods and beverages in diets, and the frequency with which they are habitually consumed.”

It goes on to say that a healthy eating pattern should include everything from vegetables and fruits to grains, dairy, protein and even oils. It also says our eating patterns should limit excess saturated and trans fats, added sugars and sodium.


“As you can see, there’s much more we need to include in our diets than exclude to be healthy.”


This all came to mind as I followed the news of soda taxes being proposed in several cities across the country this year. It made me wonder how taxing sugar-sweetened beverages was going to help Americans achieve the goals outlined in the DGA? Reducing added sugars is important, but it shouldn’t overshadow all of the other ways Americans can improve their diets - or worse yet - lead them to think reducing added sugars is the only thing that matters.  And sadly, there may be some evidence of just that.

Soda consumption in the U.S. has been declining for the past 30 years while obesity and unhealthy diets persist. Maybe it’s time for legislators to propose bills that will help Americans achieve better dietary patterns instead of focusing so much on sugars since the DGA also clearly state, “...the eating pattern may be more predictive of overall health status and disease risk than individual foods or nutrients.” 

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, "The Everyday RD," is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet and has partnered with the Food and Beverage Industry to spread this message. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.



Tags: National Taxes
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