Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 Edition – Losing It’s Way on Caffeine

October 22, 2014

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This is Rick Frank sitting in for John Block. This radio commentary is brought to you by Monsanto, and John Deere. They are both friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary—

There are a variety of disturbing questions surrounding the Dietary Guidelines for Americans now being drafted for release in 2015. The questions relate to whether the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee should focus its review and recommendations on scientific advances in nutrition and diet, or should they venture into policy and political issues? One topic that the Advisory Committee has been discussing is what they have called “high dose caffeine” products.

USDA and HHS have jointly published the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years since 1980. In 1990, Congress mandated the Guidelines concluding that they “shall contain nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public.” Congress went on to say that the Guidelines “shall be based on the preponderance of scientific and medical knowledge…current at the time of the report.”

Despite these clear instructions and limitations, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is looking to expand its scope and recommendations by addressing caffeine consumption. As a part of that conversation, the Committee has arbitrarily categorized energy drinks – and only energy drinks - as ‘high dose caffeine products’ despite the fact that many commercial coffee products contain the same - and often more - caffeine than most energy drinks. Further, neither the Advisory Committee nor FDA have established an acceptable, daily intake limit for caffeine.

When we consider the fact that caffeine has been safely consumed for hundreds of years and that 90% of caffeine in the American diet continues to come from coffee, tea, and caffeinated soft drinks like colas, the creation of the undefined category “high dose” caffeine products is even more puzzling. Energy drinks contribute only 2% of total dietary caffeine intake. The leading brands are labeled with total caffeine content and contain approximately the same amount of caffeine as home brewed coffee. The Advisory Committee, working with FDA, should consider all caffeinated products equally. The fact is, the caffeine in energy drinks is not different from the caffeine in coffee or tea. A more sensible approach would be for ALL products, including coffee and colas, to disclose their caffeine content as well as establishing a recommended dietary intake limit for daily caffeine consumption. Demonizing energy drinks under the guise of safe caffeine consumption is not an appropriate function for the Advisory Committee.

The Dietary Guidelines should be a practical and achievable set of recommendations based on balance, variety, and moderation. The process should not become a political circus where certain interest groups seek to impose their agenda without the sound scientific basis required by Congress.

Until next week, I am Rick Frank sitting in for John Block in Washington, D.C