In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the joint release of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the eighth edition of the book used by physicians, researchers, and health policymakers as the definitive source for dietary and nutritional information.
“Protecting the health of the American public includes empowering them with the tools they need to make healthy choices in their daily lives,” says HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “By focusing on small shifts in what we eat and drink, eating healthy becomes more manageable.”
There are a few surprises in this new edition, including the removal of the limit on dietary cholesterol. With recent science strongly indicating that restricting dietary cholesterol has no effect on lowering blood cholesterol levels, the guidelines conclude that cholesterol is no longer a “nutrient of concern.”
Likewise, java enthusiasts will be pleased to learn that three to five 8-ounce cups/day, or up to 400 mg/day of caffeine, “can be incorporated into healthy eating patterns.”
If implemented, these guidelines have the potential to prevent early death for many Arkansans. According to the Arkansas Department of Health, most of the leading causes of death in the state are chronic diseases, in part because Arkansas has some of the highest rates of obesity and high blood pressure in the country — factors that can be managed through diet and nutrition.
The five guidelines to follow
Another change to the dietary guidelines is that specific recommendations are organized under five overarching guidelines:
- 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.
Several key recommendations provide further guidance on how to follow the five guidelines. The first key recommendation is to consume a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level. A healthy eating pattern includes:
- A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups.
- Fruits, especially whole fruits.
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains.
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy and/or fortified soy beverages.
- A variety of proteins, including seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products.
- Oils, including oils from plants.
Other key recommendations focus on creating a healthy eating pattern by limiting saturated fats and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars: Less than 10 percent of daily calories should come from saturated fats, while people over the age of 14 should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams per day of sodium (and people under 14 should consume even less).
New labels, new tools
It will soon be easier to distinguish added sugars from naturally occurring sugars; the Food and Drug Administration is including “added sugar” as a new percent daily value in the ongoing redesign of its standardized Nutrition Label. The new label design will also include adjustments in serving size that more accurately reflect people’s eating habits, as well as larger typeface for calorie counts.
Another tool to help implement the Dietary Guidelines recommendation is the USDA website choosemyplate.gov, which teaches people how to start with small changes to develop a healthy eating style. Represented by the colorful and educational MyPlate icon, which replaced the traditional food pyramid in 2011, the site boasts a number of tools, including the SuperTracker, which tracks both food and physical activity, provides virtual coaching and can be customized to reflect changing needs.
A.D. Lively is a Little Rock-based writer.