Alcohol isn’t healthy after all. Will new dietary guidelines reflect that?

In 1995, when Marion Nestle was on the committee drafting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, things were run differently. She and other experts handled it all: deciding on nutrition-related research questions, collecting the evidence, issuing a scientific report, and then writing guidance for how Americans should eat.

When it came time for that last part — the writing — Nestle and two co-authors got together at a bar, ordered glasses of wine, and got to work. “I’m not kidding,” she said. At the time, the research suggested small amounts of alcohol reduced the risk of heart disease. The guidelines reflected that. “Alcoholic beverages have been used to enhance the enjoyment of meals by many societies throughout human history,” read a part of the 1995 document (a note Nestle says was added last-minute by a federal official who believed in wine’s benefits).

The issue of alcohol — and how much of it Americans should consume — is up for debate again as the dietary guidelines undergo updates and revisions, due in 2025. Already, there’s simmering debate over a growing body of research, plus clashing of interests and the same specter of controversy that’s followed the report since Nestle’s time.

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