People in the Nordics are now advised to drink zero alcohol. Do dietary guidelines work if we cannot follow them?

Yesterday, new Nordic dietary guidelines were launched. Some
of the recommendations will lead to significant changes in our diet if we
follow them.

Others will impact our social life, such as the
recommendation of zero alcohol.

The current advice from the Norwegian Directorate of Health
is a maximum of 10 grams of alcohol per day for women, which is equivalent to a
small glass of wine. For men, 20 grams is recommended.

400 Norwegian, Nordic, and international researchers have spent
five years reviewing thousands of studies on foods, proteins, carbohydrates,
vitamins, and alcohol. It has been ten years since the last review, so much of
the research is new.

The researchers have not been able to find scientific evidence
that any amount of alcohol is beneficial for our health. The glass of red wine that
was once considered good for the heart is no longer so, according to the latest
research.

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Answer marked with double underscores

The work of the research group is similar to that behind the
reports of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). They have
set criteria for what constitutes good research and have excluded poor, weak, and
small studies. They have looked at new results and compared them with old ones.
They have had disagreements but have sought a common answer. The result, i.e.,
the recommendations, is based on the overall picture.

It is rare for researchers to underline an answer, but they
have done so here, just like they do with climate change.

And when the accumulated research indicates that zero
alcohol is the best for our health, then that becomes their recommendation.

They have gone through the different food groups in a similar manner.
Drink a maximum of four cups of coffee per day. Consume lean dairy products, up
to 500 grams per day. Red meat: Here, we should reduce it to 350 grams per
week. Instead of replacing red meat with white, they recommend fish, lentils,
beans, and vegetables.

The report has received criticism, and the discussions will
continue.

Disagreement about the selection of studies

Other researchers criticise the report because they believe
that good, large, and/or important studies have been excluded. Perhaps there
are studies they themselves rely on or have used in their research. Maybe they
are their own studies.

Or they argue that weak studies have been included. Researchers
do not always agree on what constitutes good scientific method or solid
results.

Many with vested interests also criticise the new dietary
guidelines.

For example, those involved in meat production. There are
studies that exonerate red meat from health risks. Or they can refer to food
traditions and the importance of livestock for self-sufficiency and cultural
landscapes.

Nevertheless, the research group’s review of numerous new
studies indicates that red meat should be consumed in smaller quantities than what
we currently eat. Public health takes precedence over meat producers and traditional
foods.

Uncompromising recommendations

Others are sceptical about ultra-processed food and believe
that guidelines against it should have been included. The research group,
however, has not found research confirming that this type of food negatively affects
health. They do mention a possible correlation but lack definitive research
answers.

The research group’s approach is research-driven and
health-focused. They do not consider other factors beyond health and, in this
instance, sustainability.

The research group follows the same path as the climate panels:
You may like it or not, but the accumulated research speaks for itself.

There is respect for professional advice and researchers who
make no compromises.

However, this could lead to the dietary guidelines losing
their status.

The dietary guidelines have had significant importance

They have been in place since 1954. Much research has been conducted
since then, leading to multiple revisions. The last revision took place ten
years ago.

The dietary guidelines have been the norm. They have defined
what is considered healthy for us, even if we can’t recite them by heart or
follow them every day.

What we have learned about food and health in school stems
from the dietary guidelines. The food delivered to our elders at home or in nursing
homes is based on the guidelines. The food served in hospitals and nurseries
should adhere to the recommendations.

The dietary guidelines have had significant importance. They
are something we know we should strive for.

Now, most of us don’t stand a chance.

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People won’t stop drinking

Norway will not become teetotal.

Many of us could benefit from completely cutting out alcohol
or drinking much less. Most of us drink occasionally or frequently but without
alcohol problems.

If we are unsure if our intake is excessive, we can check
with the authorities. What is their advice? Then we can try to align with that.

But even the most moderate individuals will violate the new
alcohol recommendation.

Most of us have ambitions to eat healthier. Many want to
drink less. However, only a small percentage of the population is teetotal or
aspires to be so.

If the Norwegian Directorate of Health incorporates the
Nordic recommendations of avoiding alcohol in their national dietary guidelines,
most of us will go against them.

We trust the state in this country. When they expect
something from us, we usually try to comply.

But when expectations are set that we cannot meet, everyone
becomes dissatisfied. When you know you will lose, why should you try to play along?

The dietary guidelines have had high status in this country.
Now, they may lose a significant amount of influence. That is not good for our
health.

———

Translated
by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik.

Read
the Norwegian version of this article on forskning.no

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