The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for American’s was released last week. These guidelines are only updated every 5 years, and the changes made have a large impact on government run programs and policies. This set of recommendations is not only designed to get Americans to eat healthier, but it sets standards for the National School Lunch Program, the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and for food stamps (SNAP).

“So give me a brief summary of what these guidelines say..”

There is a lot of emphasis on adopting healthy eating patterns throughout the lifespan, and at all ages in order to decrease our risk for chronic disease (diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc) and nutrient deficiencies. It is advised to eat more nutrient dense foods in place of less healthful options. The guidelines even go on to show in pictures how to shift to more nutrient dense foods over less healthful options, which is a major plus.

A healthy eating pattern is rich in: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean sources of protein, low fat or fat free dairy, and oils. It limits calories from added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.Produce-Heart-150x150

We are advised to limit added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, since the majority of Americans are exceeding their intake. The dietary guidelines have always been good at recommending foods to increase (i.e. increase fruits, vegetables, whole grains), but haven’t been so good at telling us what foods to decrease. Instead, the focus is still on certain nutrients to limit. This means whole grains instead of refined grains; whole fruit over fruit bars.

Here is how to interpret these percentages:

Added Sugars <10% of caloric intakeSugary-Drink-150x150

  • ~180 calories* from added sugars or 45 grams of added sugar per day
  • Most of our added sugars are coming from our drinks -sodas, iced teas, sports drinks, coffees, energy drinks.
  • One 16 oz bottle of Snapple Iced Tea packs 46 grams of sugar, what is recommended for one day!
  • Unfortunately, the current food label does not tell us how much sugar wasadded into a product, but tells us the amount of naturally occurring pus added sugars

Saturated Fat <10% of caloric intake

  • 180 calories* from saturated fat or 20 grams of saturated fat per day
  • There are 21 grams of saturated fat in a Big Mac and small French Fries from McDonald’s
  • For more specifics on saturated fat content of food items, look at the food label

Sodium <2,300 mg/day

  • The largest contributors to sodium intake are breads, deli and cured meats, pizza, sandwiches and canned soups.

“So what is different in this year’s Dietary Guidelines as opposed to the past?”

There is no specific recommendation for cholesterol anymore, as in previous years it was recommended to limit cholesterol consumption to <300mg/d. The US was one of the few countries around the world that set a limit on cholesterol intake, but now this limit has been lifted. It is recommended to limit cholesterol from food sources, since our bodies make about 70% of circulating cholesterol.  While this is great news for egg and shellfish lovers, remember that these items are still a concentrated source of fat, and can dramatically increase your caloric intake if you are not careful.

The guidelines point out that ¾ of Americans are not eating enough fruits, vegetables, dairy, and oils. It also states that about ½ of the population (the majority teenage and adult males) is exceeding their intake of grain and protein foods (specifically meat, poultry, and eggs).

If you find that it is difficult to meet these recommendations, or if you have any questions about what they mean, make an appointment with your registered dietitian! Until then, the best way for us to meet these guidelines is to limit our intake of processed foods, and eat more fresh, whole foods.