Dietary advice makes little impact

By Alex Bonus |

LulisKelly Gray says eating her cupcakes is a guilty pleasure for customers, and new federal dietary guidelines won’t change that fact.

“In this economy, people aren’t paying to go out,” Gray, the manager of Luli’s Cupcakes at 82 San Marco Ave., said. “But for $2.50 they’ll buy a little treat even if it isn’t healthy.”

Gray has not heard customer concerns since the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services released new dietary guidelines on Jan. 31. Revised every five years, the guidelines this year call for consumers to avoid oversized portions, to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables and to reduce the amount of sodium in their diets.

They also target desserts such as cakes, cookies and pastries as top sources of calories for Americans ages 2 years and older.

Despite this reproach, Gray isn’t worried.

“People don’t mind splurging on desserts,” she said. “It’s a great little pick-me-up.”

Gray is not alone in her beliefs. Although many media outlets have reported that these guidelines influence everything from nutrition labels to the content of school lunches, it seems the revisions may have little lasting effect.

St. Johns County School District Nutrition Specialist Jodi Douglas said she doesn’t predict any big changes to school lunches.

“We’ve already made some changes in the past, like adding whole grains and low-fat cheeses,” she said. “But there’s nothing here that we haven’t already been talking about for a long time.”

If the government does call for specific changes, changes to food content would come from companies that sell food to schools.

“We’ll have to wait and see what the vendors offer us,” Douglas said.

Even the guidelines’ effect on restaurants looks bleak. The Present Moment Café at 224 West King St. prides itself on raw organic foods and healthy eating, but manager Sandy Killion said she is not familiar with the new recommendations.

“It all seems kind of bogus,” she said.

Though she feels the direction of the guidelines is positive — especially recommendations to “drink water instead of sugary drinks” and to “make half your plate fruits and vegetables” — she is more concerned with portion sizes.

“People shouldn’t feel pressured to eat more food,” she said. “It’d really be in a restaurant’s favor to use less food and cut back portions.” Although the guidelines urge consumers to cut back the size of their meals, the government cannot control the amount of food restaurants serve.

However, some believe the government is not interested in public health. St. Augustine homeowner Adrienne Elsner said lobbyists for large food corporations influence the content of dietary guidelines. Though she believes the recommendations improved by emphasizing water and vegetable intake, she does not credit the government for the change.

“It sounds like the public is finally starting to have an influence on the government conscience,” she said. She also believes that if the guidelines do have a lasting effect, it may not be a step in the right direction.

“I don’t think the government has our best interests at heart,” she said. “They have their interests at heart.”

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