2015 U.S. dietary guidelines released

By TARA ABRISHAMI | February 11, 2016

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Paul/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 The 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines suggest limiting added sugars to 10 percent of your daily calories.

One of the most significant changes in the new guidelines is the recommendation to limit added sugars to less than 10 percent of total daily calories. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already recommended the same limit and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting sugar to only five percent of daily calories. Though the 2015 Dietary Guidelines’ recommendation on added sugar isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, it is the first time the guidelines provide a numerical limit to added sugars, which many people praise. Nestle was quick to note however, “‘added sugars’ is a euphemism for sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages.” Presumably due to the lobbying influence of the soda industry, the guidelines don’t explicitly recommend limiting sugary drinks. Realistically the added sugar content of a single soda can exceed the limit. Nevertheless, junk food and snacks along with most processed foods also contain a huge amount of added sugars, so specifying a total limit on all added sugars rather than on a single source is not unreasonable.

The guidelines also take a new look at dietary cholesterol and suggest, “The Key Recommendation from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines to limit consumption of dietary cholesterol to 300 mg per day is not included in the 2015 edition, but this change does not suggest that dietary cholesterol is no longer important to consider when building healthy eating patterns.” No idea what that means.

The ambiguity in the 2015 guidelines’ statement about cholesterol reflects the general uncertainty surrounding the dietary cholesterol, which has conventionally been seen as a nutritional evil. Recent studies have shown that dietary cholesterol has little relationship to the blood cholesterol that is frequently cited as a key player in heart disease. Conflicting opinions as to whether or not dietary cholesterol should be limited still exist. Apparently the U.S. Dietary Guidelines haven’t figured it out yet.

Another controversial dietary element is saturated fat. The jury still debates on whether or not saturated fats pose a health threat, but the 2015 Dietary Guidelines stick to the 2010 limit of less than 10 percent of daily calories from saturated fats.

The rest of the recommendations are familiar: Increase fruits and vegetables, increase whole grains to 50 percent of total grains, consume primarily low-fat dairy products, etc. A few recent reports, including a book called Grain Brain, claim that grains like wheat should be limited. These claims remain controversial and have not reached the radar of major recommendations such as the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

The most disappointing part of the new Dietary Guidelines isn’t what changed, which was mostly in parallel with recent research, but what didn’t change. For example, total physical activity guidelines remain the same. However, the guidelines report that only around 20 percent of adults actually meet the recommended 60 minutes of moderate physical activity a day. The guidelines mention spending less time in front of screens and being less sedentary but don’t specify whether those are independent recommendations or ways to exercise more. The lack of elaboration with respect to physical inactivity is especially frustrating given all the recent research suggesting the whole host of health problems that a sedentary lifestyle could cause.

The guidelines also don’t explicitly mention limiting red meat despite recent revelations that red meat plays a role in exacerbating or even causing serious health conditions such as cancer.

In short, the new Dietary Guidelines are relatively similar to the nutritional advice most of us are already familiar with, though they did address some especially controversial topics such as dietary cholesterol and saturated fats. All nutritional advice is controversial and essentially no recommendations other than, “eat your fruits and vegetables” are entirely unchallenged. (You could probably even find people who challenge certain fruits and vegetables.) The most important takeaway from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines is that, while the government and the food industry both influence each other and play large roles in your nutritional choices, you should turn to a variety of resources and do your own research when making decisions about your health.

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