The 2015 Dietary Guidelines: Shifts Need to Happen

Jan. 15, 2016
There’s much logic – and business opportunity – in the newly released Dietary Guidelines

On Jan. 7, the Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the highly anticipated 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The new guidelines, which theoretically set national nutrition policy for the next five years, contain some things new, some things old and some things that are totally confusing.

One of the most significant developments is the focus on overall healthy eating patterns and a recognition that consumers need to shift food choices to achieve diets that are closer to healthy eating patterns. Historically, this is an important shift away from a focus on individual nutrients, foods and even food groups to an overall eating pattern across a person’s lifespan (see the Infographic in a PDF). Whereas the mantra had been “all foods fit,” now it seems to be “some foods and beverages help you achieve healthier eating patterns.”

After 40 years of DGAs, the question remains: Do consumers really need to be told to eat more vegetables? I remember my grandmother saying: “Billy, eat your veggies.” I guess it takes 14 scientific experts and two large federal agencies, a congressional hearing and a landmark number of public comments on a controversial advisory committee report over a three-plus-year process to validate my grandmother (see the Infographic in a PDF). Thank you, Nana.

One of the most confusing things is the recommendation on dietary cholesterol. For all practical purposes, the final policy document removes the threshold or target level for dietary cholesterol but then reinforces cholesterol targets later in the report. The dietary cholesterol target of 300 mg per day is “not included in the 2015 edition,” but the Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern contains approximately 100 to 300 mg of cholesterol across 12 calorie levels. So it’s not in, but also still in. What’s an egg to do?

The new DGA has a chapter on how everyone – including the food industry – has a role to play in supporting healthy eating patterns, and that implementing the Dietary Guidelines is an important part of the process. Perhaps the biggest shift we as a society need to make is to promote true food appreciation and a culture that respects and cherishes the value of high-quality food. We require adolescents to spend 50-100 hours learning to drive a car and almost no time learning where food comes from, how to plan nourishing meals, the importance of sharing meals or how to cook. Yes, shifts need to happen.

Food Safety and Regulatory Outlook

The new year will undoubtedly bring some food safety and regulatory challenges, but we tried to flag the likely issues for you throughout 2015. So take a look back at our Food Safety and Regulatory columns of 2015 and see their guidance on how issues like the evolving Food Safety Modernization Act, GMO labeling, the upcoming Dietary Guidelines and labeling changes will play out in 2016. Download the articles

Speaking of shifts, at this point you’re probably wondering: what can my company shift to leverage the new DGAs as a business opportunity? Lots of things, actually.

The 2015-2020 DGAs call on the food & beverage industry to continue bringing consumers along on a journey to choose healthier options by reformulating foods to contain less saturated fat, added sugars and sodium and more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy.

Of note, oils have experienced a renaissance of sorts. A decade ago, even olive oil was at the tip of the pyramid as a source of “discretionary calories” that should be minimized. Today, the DGAs encourage people to use oils that are high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats rather than solid fats in food preparation where possible. This presents a marketing opportunity for salad dressings, spreads and other processed foods that are made with oil instead of solid fats.

A signature element of the new DGAs is the introduction of the Healthy Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern, which logically lends itself to the marketing of whole foods like nuts and avocados, as well as other foods and beverages that align with the Mediterranean diet profile and lifestyle. I wonder how some enterprising manufacturer, retailer or software company will bring it to life via on-pack claims, a campaign capturing the romance of the Greek Isles or even a licensing deal with a member of the travel sector?

In the end, I believe the most enlightened of companies will embrace the role of true custodian of public health. Nestlé SA  created a global initiative to encourage mindful portion sizes. By providing practical on-pack portion guidance and even visual cues embedded in the food (think: cutting a piece of lasagna along a perforated mark), Nestlé is helping people around the world make better-informed consumption decisions. I fully expect the public to reward the effort with trust, loyalty and repeat purchases over the long term.

Here’s to meaningful shifts in the new year and beyond – toward good health and good business!

About the Author

Bill Layden is partner and co-founder of FoodMinds LLC. With offices in Chicago, Washington, DC and San Francisco, FoodMinds provides strategic counsel and insights that help food industry, professional and trade associations, and commodity board clients navigate the rapidly-changing worlds of nutrition and public health. Contact Bill at [email protected].

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