Every five years, USDA and the Dept. of Health & Human Services (HHS), the FDA's parent, develop the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and every five years it seems they garner less interest.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, made up of 20 experts from across the U.S., made its recommendations public in July to little fanfare. Past advisory committee recommendations drew ire from sugar, salt, meat and dairy constituencies, as well as from groups that felt they didn't go far enough in provoking changes in Americans' eating habits.
The 2015 advisory committee report set off contentious debate over warnings about meat and added sugars, recommendations that eggs and coffee are OK and that the environmental impact of food should be considered when choosing foods.
The final 2015 Dietary Guidelines, which were toned down by USDA and HHS, are explained here.
Generally, this year's report stresses the importance of a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, nuts and unsaturated vegetable oils, plus low consumption of red and processed meats, refined grains and sugar-sweetened foods and beverages.
The recommendations in the scientific report are not mandatory, but USDA and HHS –as well as Congress, which has the final say – do consider them as the final report is developed, which is due by the end of this year. In addition to advice for the general population, the guidelines form the foundation for federal food programs, such as the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
Some of the key points:
- Reducing Added Sugars: Previous Dietary Guidelines recommended less than 10% of a person's daily calories should come from added sugars; the committee's recommendation is to lower that to 6%. The substitution of low- and no-calorie sweeteners is seen as a useful aid, especially for those suffering from diabetes.
- Increasing Fiber: Fiber was flagged in the previous version and remains a "nutrient of concern," as most Americans are only getting about half the amount of fiber they should get.
Jamie Stang, an associate professor in the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, was one of the committee members. The college published an interview with her that included her highlights:
- Alcohol Intake: "I think it will surprise people. The data we examined showed that even one drink a day for both genders is the limit of what you want to consume. And because some alcohol is consumed with mixers, they add sugars and additional calories."
- Meats: "There’s a bigger emphasis on eating fish and seafood, particularly for pregnant women and kids. There’s also a little more emphasis on non-animal sources of protein. We’re not saying 'no red meat,' but we’re saying limit red meat."
- New Areas of Exploration: "This is the first time that the report has included separate guidelines for what to consume during pregnancy and lactation. [And] previously the guidelines started at age two … there needs to be a lot more attention paid to [kids] 12-24 months."
- Nutrients of Concern: "We saw that calcium is pretty low in kids. Vitamin D is another concern. [So is vitamin E.] Choline is a relatively new nutrient of concern," said Stang.
Dairy has been a contentious issue with past committee reports. This time, the International Dairy Foods Assn. seemed content, saying the report "affirmed the unmatched health and nutrition benefits that dairy products provide to people of all ages," and especially for children.
Sodium is another key area of interest. The American Heart Assn. noted, "While the committee did not comment on sodium due to the recent review by the National Academy of Sciences, the association encourages HHS and USDA to continue emphasizing the need to reduce sodium intake in the Dietary Guidelines and incorporate the new dietary reference intakes. Reducing excessive sodium intake, of which 70 percent comes from processed, prepackaged and restaurant foods, is critical to reducing cardiovascular disease risk."