2015 Dietary Guidelines Finally Are Released

Jan. 7, 2016
No surprises, although specific limits on sugar suggested.

The government’s 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released Jan. 7 with strong warnings about sugar, a less than expected slap at meat and an acknowledgement that some oils are healthy.

There were no huge surprises from the 11-month-old recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee with the exceptions, hinted by the Secretary of Agriculture in the middle of last year, that the final recommendations would not come down hard on meat and would not suggest considering the environmental impact of food production – which also would have favored plant proteins over animal protein.

Even the title of the news release hinted at the continuing tilt at preventing diseases: “New Dietary Guidelines to encourage healthy eating patterns to prevent chronic diseases” and deeper in the release “to improve how [people] eat to reduce obesity and prevent chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.”

“Healthy eating patterns include a variety of nutritious foods like vegetables, fruits, 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 news release said. “A healthy eating pattern is adaptable to a person's taste preferences, traditions, culture and budget.”

The guidelines suggest Americans should consume:

  • A variety of vegetables, including dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy and other vegetables
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products, and nuts and seeds
  • Oils, including those from plants: canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower. Oils also are naturally present in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives, and avocados.

Further, Americans should limit consumption of:

  • Added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per day.
  • Saturated fats to less than 10 percent of calories per day.
  • Sodium to less than 2,300mg per day for people over the age of 14 years and less for those younger.

Some things worth noting from deeper in the guidelines:

  • There was some speculation the guidelines could create some warning about chemical non-nutritive sweeteners, especially aspartame, but instead they noted: “aspartame in amounts commonly consumed is safe and poses minimal health risk for healthy individuals without phenylketonuria.”
  • Dietary cholesterol does not play a major role in blood cholesterol, a reversal of previous thinking. This makes egg people happy.
  • A little caffeine is OK. “Moderate coffee consumption (three to five 8-oz cups/day or providing up to 400 mg/day of caffeine) can be incorporated into healthy eating patterns.”

The guidelines were announced by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Sylvia Burwell, secretary of Health and Human Services (parent agency of the FDA). There are five overarching guidelines:

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. Eating patterns are the combination of foods and drinks that a person eats over time.
  • Focus on variety, nutrient-dense foods, 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.

While their effect on the overall American diet is slow, past editions emphasized fiber, whole grains and fruits and vegetables and the elimination or reduction of trans fats and saturated fats. Eventually the average shopper caught on.

The guidelines do form the basis of nutrition education programs, federal nutrition assistance programs, such as school meals and Meals on Wheels programs for seniors, and dietary advice provided by health professionals.

A fuller report is available at dietaryguidelines.gov.

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