A simple review of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines

The new  2015 Dietary Guidelines came out last week, which is significant for all of us since they serve as the groundwork for important nutrition policies and programs throughout the United States and ultimately play a role in determining what we eat. Predictably, its release generated a lot of noise among unsatisfied public health professionals, nutritionists, environmentalists, and food manufacturers.

Keeping up with all of the different reactions is exhausting, and acknowledging the food industry’s prevailing influence over the guidelines is maddening. Nonetheless, I feel it’s worthwhile to share with you the guidelines’ key recommendations along with a few personal comments (in italics).

Key recommendations
A healthy eating pattern includes:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains (A healthy eating pattern can include refined grains, such as white bread and white rice, but they are not inherently healthy nor essential parts of a healthy eating pattern.)
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages (optional)
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products (Grains and dairy are also good sources of protein so there is no logic for “protein foods” to be grouped together like this. A better recommendation would be to eat “a variety of whole grains, beans, peas, nuts and seeds” since we know that a plant-based diet high in these foods plus fruits and vegetables is best for health.)
  • Oils (Wow, this is super vague. I’d recommend small amounts of olive oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil and oils from nuts and seeds.)

A healthy eating pattern limits:

  • Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium (In other words, limit red meat, processed meat, pastries, fried food, junk food and other highly processed food. This is a great example of the food industry’s influence over the guidelines. Notice the focus on single nutrients versus foods.)

Key Recommendations that are quantitative are provided for several components of the diet that should be limited. These components are of particular public health concern in the United States, and the specified limits can help individuals achieve healthy eating patterns within calorie limits:

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars (I.e. Eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages – soda, iced tea, lemonade, sports drinks – and limit candy, pastries, heavily sweetened yogurts, granola bars, and cereals.)
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats (I.e. Eat less meat and processed meat).
  • Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium (I.e. Eat less highly processed food and junk food. Roughly 80% of our sodium comes from processed foods.)
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age.

To learn more about the new guidelines, including the role of science and politics, check out Time Magazine’s report, Experts Say Lobbying Skewed the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.”

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