Updated Dietary Guidelines Support New Eating Habits

Andria Chen/Staff Illustrator

Joanne Rhee
Staff Writer

New updates and research supporting the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) for 2015–2020 were recently announced. The Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released their newest scientific findings and updates to the DGA.

“Protecting the health of the American public includes empowering them with the tools they need to make healthy choices in their daily lives,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia M. Burwell. “By focusing on small shifts in what we eat and drink, eating healthy becomes more manageable. The Dietary Guidelines provide science-based recommendations on food and nutrition so people can make decisions that may help keep their weight under control, and prevent chronic conditions like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.”

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) has been publishing dietary guidelines every five years since 1980. These science-based recommendations are updated periodically to reflect the most recent understandings about healthy eating choices and their consequences.

They urge Americans to cut back on the intake of sugar, salt and red meat. Instead, the new guidelines promote a more Mediterranean-like diet, with emphasis on fruits, vegetables, lean protein, legumes, grains, seafoods and oils derived from plants, while still urging Americans to cut back on the intake of sugar, salt and red meat. Researchers have found that those who follow a Mediterranean diet have lower rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.

One message that has stayed consistent since the previous guideline is to limit the intake of saturated fats to less than ten percent of daily calories consumed. This includes butter, red meat, animal fats and high-fat dairy products — yes, that even includes the whipped cream on your Frappuccino.

The DGA announced some unprecedented guidelines concerning the consumption of sugar, namely that added sugar should account for no more than ten percent of daily calories. This doesn’t include natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables.

Additionally, the intake of salt for Americans 14 and older should be restricted to about a teaspoon a day. Recent studies have shown that a high sodium diet can increase risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke and death.

However, there are now new, lenient guidelines regarding cholesterol. Nutritional scientists have pointed out that blood cholesterol isn’t majorly affected by dietary cholesterol; saturated and trans fat play a larger role in affecting blood cholesterol. Previously, the DGA advised to limit cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams (which can be easily exceeded by just two eggs). There are no longer recommendations to limit cholesterol.

Coffee and caffeine intake have been included in the 2015–2020 DGA for the first time in history. They assure that “moderate coffee consumption (three to five eight-oz cups/day or providing up to 400 mg/day of caffeine) can be incorporated into healthy eating patterns.” They also mention that people who don’t already consume caffeine don’t have to start drinking it, as they can have perfectly healthy diets without it. This gives students one less thing to worry about during finals season.

All in all, the ODPHP states, “at the core of this guidance is the importance of consuming overall healthy eating patterns, including vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, protein foods and oils — eaten within an appropriate calorie level and in forms with limited amounts of saturated fats, added sugars and sodium.”