The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were finally released Jan. 7. A pitched battle has been waged for nearly a year between nutrition experts and industry lobbyists over recommendations issued by a government-appointed committee. A few minor changes concerning cholesterol, red meat and sugar are getting a lot of attention.
But it’s important to remember that the Department of Agriculture has issued dietary guidelines every five years for the last 20 years, with virtually no impact on rising rates of obesity and chronic disease. Every five years, the food industry will always play the victim of government overreach and nutrition experts will always say the guidelines don’t go far enough.
New sugar guidelines
Everyone but sugar industry lobbyists are satisfied with new sugar guidelines suggesting we limit consumption to less than 10 percent of daily calories. Although groups like the Sugar Association insist there is no evidence supporting a cause and effect between sugar consumption and chronic disease, a growing body of evidence links high levels of sugar consumption to Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, even among people who aren’t overweight or obese.
To meet the new 10 percent target, the average American would have to cut their sugar intake in half from about 22 teaspoons a day to 12 teaspoons. The Sugar Association is mad because this is fairly easy to do if you avoid processed foods and sugar-sweetened drinks.
New red meat guidelines
Numerous recent studies have linked eating red and processed meat to various cancers. The advisory committee had advised including guidelines to cut back to specific amounts of red and processed meats. But not if groups such as the North American Meat Institute had anything to say about it.
Pressure from industry lobbyists led the USDA to soft-pedal the risks of eating meat. The guidelines do mention, “lower intake of meats as well as processed meats and processed poultry are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in adults,” as well as, “Moderate evidence indicates that these eating patterns are associated with reduced risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer in adults.”
New cholesterol guidelines
In recent years, research has shown cholesterol in food doesn’t significantly increase levels of cholesterol in your blood. In February 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) recommended dropping the existing limit on dietary cholesterol, which was 300 milligrams a day. However, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine threatened to sue the Department of Agriculture if cholesterol limits were dropped.
In the end, the 2015 guidelines do remove the specified limit, with the caveat: “this change does not suggest that dietary cholesterol is no longer important to consider when building healthy eating patterns. … Individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible.”
Healthy eating patterns
The new guidelines do attempt to focus more on foods and eating patterns, rather than amounts of specific nutrients. Specific nutrients are hard for most people who aren’t experts to regulate. According to the new guidelines, healthy eating patterns include eating a variety of nutrient dense foods, limiting portion sizes and making healthier food and beverage choices.
After all the fuss about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, very little has changed from the previous version issued in 2010. Healthy eating simply involves understanding what is good for you. Of all the advice and recommendations you could choose to follow, perhaps the author Michael Pollan offers the easiest: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”