Dietary Guidelines – what do they really mean?

By Charlyn Fargo

The ink has dried on the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (released in early January).

The main message hasn’t changed much over the years: eat your fruits and vegetables, whole grains and seafood, too, and keep sugar, fats and salt in moderation. The latest guidelines expand on the 2010 edition by focusing on overall “eating patterns” to achieve optimal health across the lifespan versus individual foods, food groups and nutrients. The guidelines set new, key recommendations for cholesterol, added sugars and saturated fat intake. Surprisingly, solid fat, refined grains and fiber are not included in the key recommendations.

The new guidelines focus on a healthy eating pattern that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy, lean meats and other protein foods, and oils, while limiting saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars and sodium.

The biggest changes include removing the 300 mg daily limit on dietary cholesterol. Cholesterol is no longer listed as something to specifically limit to prevent cardiovascular disease. The newest science shows that saturated fat intake, not cholesterol intake, has a much greater impact on blood cholesterol levels.

When it comes to sodium, the new recommendations recommend that people older than 14 consume less than 2,300 mg per day of sodium and those younger consume less. The 2010 edition recommended that Americans age 2 and older lower sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day and 1,500 mg per day for those age 51 and older, as well as those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. The new guidelines drop that lower amount as part of the top recommendations.

The new guidelines also recommend individuals consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars (that amounts to about 200 calories per day or about the amount in one 16-ounce sugary drink) and consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats. The sugar recommendation is part of a larger push to help consumers isolate added sugars from naturally occurring ones, like those in fruit and milk. Added sugars generally add empty calories to the diet.

The new report wants Americans to look at the whole picture of what they’re eating rather than just individual foods. People eat foods in combination. The guidelines highlight the fact that an eating pattern is more important than a single food. The take home message? Strive to attain a pattern that is healthy. No single food can be a cure-all super food or a curse. Take everything in moderation, balance and variety.

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