6 Things You Should Know About The New Federal Dietary Guidelines

In a bid to reduce obesity, prevent chronic diseases, and encourage healthy eating patterns, federal regulators issued new five-year Dietary Guidelines on Thursday. From cutting down on sugar, to saying red meat wasn’t so bad for your diet, the updated guidelines are chock-full of things you should and shouldn’t do in order to live a healthy lifestyle. 

While this isn’t the first (or the last time) the Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services will delve into what we put in our mouth, the eighth edition of Dietary Guidelines do reflect the current trend of recognizing the importance of focusing on individual nutrients and foods, as well as the way people eat and drink today.

The guidelines, which were compiled after receiving input from a panel of scientists, provide basic nutrition advice that forms the basis for many federal, state, and local food policies.

“The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is one of many important tools that help to support a healthier next generation of Americans,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement. “The latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines provide individuals with the flexibility to make healthy food choices that are right for them and their families and take advantage of the diversity of products available, thanks to America’s farmers and ranchers.”

Aside from the normal “eat more vegetables and fruit,” the guidelines offer a few new (and continued) recommendations for a healthy lifestyle. So without further ado, here are the six things you should know about this year’s version of the quinquennial publication:

1. Less Added Sugar: Perhaps the biggest change included in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines is the limitation of added sugar to no more than 10% of one’s dietary calories.

It should be noted that the recommendation to decrease consumption of the sweet stuff does not include naturally occurring sugars that are found in fruit and other whole foods.

According to the guidelines, the recommendation to limit added sugar intake was based on “food pattern modeling and national data on intakes of calories from added sugars that demonstrate the public health need to limit calories from added sugars to meet food group and nutrient needs within calorie limits.”

Added sugars account on average for almost 270 calories, or more than 13% of calories per day in the U.S. population, the recommendations state.

Currently, beverages, such as soft drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened coffee and teas, account for almost half – or 47% of all added sugars consumed in the U.S.

The guidelines recommend that individuals choose beverages with no added sugars, such as water, in place of sugar-sweetened beverages.

“Additional strategies include limiting or decreasing portion size of grain-based and dairy desserts and sweet snacks and choosing unsweetened or no-sugar-added versions of canned fruit, fruit sauces, and yogurt,” the government advises.

ChooseMyPlate.gov provides more information about added sugars, which are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared.

2. Less Saturated Fats: Like added sugar, the government recommends that individuals limit their intake of saturated fat to just 10% of their caloric intake.

The advice regarding saturated fats is unchanged from the last five-year guidelines, as the government found that just 29% of individuals actually limit their intake of saturated fats to just 10% daily.

While you might thing that red meat is the largest producer of saturated fats, the guidelines show that mixed dishes account for 35% of all saturated fats coming from items like burgers, sandwiches, tacos, pizza, rice, pasta, and grain dishes.

The guidelines suggest that people change the ingredients in these mixed dishes to increase the amounts of vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, and low-fat or fat-free cheese, in place of some of the fatty meat and/or regular cheese.

3. No Need To Limit Red Meat, Kind Of: While individuals should watch their intake of saturated fats, the guidelines don’t explicitly advise them to cut out red meat.

This is surprising considering there’s evidence — and it’s mentioned in the paper — that diets with less meat were associated with reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.

NPR reports that health advocates believe the guidelines should have stated more directly that red meat should be limited.

“The message to eat more seafood, legumes and other protein foods really does mean substitute those for red meat,” Tom Brenna, a nutrition professor at Cornell University and a member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, tells NPR. “So I think the message is more or less there, it’s just not as clear.”

4. Go For That Coffee: As the guidelines point out, beverages are often ignored when it comes to thinking of one’s overall health. But that shouldn’t be the case.

“Beverages make a substantial contribution to total water needs as well as to nutrient and calorie intakes in most typical eating patterns,” the guidelines state. “In fact, they account for almost 20% of total calorie intake.”

The most caloric beverages include those that are sweetened, like soda, which we know should be limited (i.e. sugar intake).

As for that cup of java you need to get going in the morning, it’s okay to reach for it, as long as you limit the sweeteners.

According to the guidelines, moderate coffee consumption can be a part of a healthy diet.

5. Alcohol Minus The Caffeine: If you’re a fan of whiskey cokes, or other similarly caffeinated alcoholic drinks, then you likely won’t be a fan of the new guidelines.

The government recommends those who drink alcohol should skip the caffeine mixer. (To be clear, The Dietary Guidelines do not recommend that individuals begin drinking alcohol, or drink more for any reason.)

As far as the guidelines are concerned, caffeine paired with booze can lead people to consume “more alcohol and become more intoxicated than they realize, increasing the risk of alcohol-related adverse events.”

6. Help Your Neighbor: Because the vast majority of people in the U.S. are not meeting dietary recommendations, they suggest we all just help each other out.

“Professionals have an important role in leading disease-prevention efforts within their organizations and communities to make healthy eating and regular physical activity an organizational and societal norm,” the guidelines state. “Changes at multiple levels of the Social-Ecological Model are needed, and these changes, in combination and over time, can have a meaningful impact on the health of current and future generations.”