Last week the federal government finally released the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Though they were running a little late with the report (it is 2016, after all), this latest edition of the dietary guidelines does a nice job of highlighting some key recommendations for improving health.
[Note: if you’d like some background on the process and some of the politics involved in the 2015 guidelines take a look at my post entitled Dietary Guidelines and Sustainability: An Update.]
Five Core Guidelines
This final version highlights five core guidelines and a number of key recommendations to help individuals meet these guidelines. The five main guidelines are as follows:
- Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan
- Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount
- Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake
- Shift to healthier food and beverage choices
- Support healthy eating patterns for all
A number of key recommendations are also highlighted that provide a bit more clarity in how to meet these guidelines. Many of the recommendations are focused on foods to include in a healthy eating pattern, such as: a variety of colorful vegetables and legumes, fruits, grains (especially whole grains), low-fat dairy, and a variety of protein foods. There are also a few recommendations to limit specific nutrients:
- added sugars (less than 10% of calories)
- saturated fats (less than 10% of calories) and trans fats
- sodium (less than 2,300mg per day)
- alcohol (1 drink/day for women, 2 for men)
Focus on Nutrients
Note that when discussing items to limit the guidelines focus on nutrients instead of foods. So which actual foods have the largest impact on our diets with regards to these nutrients to limit? This information is in the guidelines as well, you just have to work a little harder to find it:
- Added sugar: sugar-sweetened beverages (primarily soft drinks) as well as snacks/sweets
- Saturated fats: mixed dishes (primarily burgers and sandwiches), snacks and sweets, protein foods (primarily meat and processed meats), and dairy
- Sodium: mixed dishes (primarily burgers and sandwiches) and protein foods (primarily meat and processed meats)
To help put this into perspective it is also useful to take a look at the recommendations relative to our current intakes. Current consumption of added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium are 30%, 10%, and 50% greater, respectively, than the recommended upper limits. Reducing consumption of soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages could quickly bring our added sugar consumption back to recommended levels. We are not too far above the recommendations for saturated fats, and conveniently the two food groups that contribute most of the sodium to our diets (mixed dishes and protein foods) are also significant contributors of saturated fat. Reducing sodium will clearly be the most difficult – keep in mind that most sodium is added during processing of foods, so limiting processed foods (sound familiar?) can really help in reducing sodium intake.
Though the latest message has been tailored carefully to meet the needs of a changing nation the overall theme of the Dietary Guidelines 2015 is remarkably similar to its first release over 35 years ago: maintain calorie balance and focus on nutrient-dense foods. If you’re interested in further information feel free to visit www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/.