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Five Highlights from the New Dietary Guidelines for Americans


Retail dietitians: It’s been about a month since the government released the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Have you digested the 200-plus page report?

Every five years, the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture publish new Dietary Guidelines based on the latest and greatest scientific evidence. That’s good news for retail dietitians because the Guidelines provide a solid framework on which to base healthy eating advice for shoppers. But it’s also a challenge to plow through the report to figure out what’s changed and what hasn’t.

Fortunately, most time-tested recommendations remain the same, such as to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less added sugars, sodium and saturated fat. But the Guidelines contain a wealth of resources and information, which many of us will read eventually.

For now, here are five bite-size highlights.

1. Patterns and Shifts Predominate. Past versions of the Guidelines focused on individual dietary components, such as food groups and nutrients, but the new Guidelines focus on achieving an overall healthy eating pattern. Why? Because people don’t eat “food groups” and “nutrients” in isolation, but rather in combination as part of overall eating patterns in which the components work together to affect health.

Also new is use of the term "shifts" to describe dieteary changes needed to move closer to meeting recommendations. The Guidelines note that most Americans would benefit from shifting food choices both within and across food groups and from current food choices to more nutritious choices.

2. Limits Specified for Added Sugars. Past guidelines recommended decreasing intake of added sugars, but for the first time, a key recommendation of the new Guidelines specify quantitative limits of less than 10 percent of daily calories from added sugars. Helping shoppers follow this recommendation will become easier when the Food and Drug Administration implements proposed updates to the Nutrition Facts label, which include specifying grams of added sugars per serving along with a percent daily value (%DV), also based on less than 10 percent of total calories from added sugars.

3. Cholesterol Limits No Longer Specified. Guidance on dietary cholesterol intake has dropped off the Key Recommendations list and limits are no longer specified—a change from previous guidelines, which recommended a limit of 300 milligrams daily. However, the new Guidelines assure us that cholesterol intake is still important, especially to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, and recommend eating "as little dietary cholesterol as possible while consuming a healthy eating pattern.” The Guidelines further explain that higher-cholesterol foods, such as fatty meats and high-fat dairy products, also tend to be higher in saturated fats, which the Guidelines continue to advise limiting to less than 10 percent of total daily calories.

4. Sodium Limits Less Strict for Certain Groups. The new Guidelines generally continue to recommend sodium intake limits of less than 2,300 milligrams daily. However, they lifted the 1,500 milligram daily limit recommended in the 2010 edition for people age 51 and over, all African Americans and those with diabetes or chronic kidney disease. The new Guidelines still advise the 1,500 milligram limit for adults with prehypertension and hypertension to help lower blood pressure.

5. An Added Perk for Caffeine. Another first is a section on caffeine, with an emphasis on coffee consumption, which is the focus of most caffeine research. The Guidelines give java lovers this good news: “Moderate coffee consumption (three to five 8-ounce cups/day or providing up to 400 milligrams/day of caffeine) can be incorporated into healthy eating patterns.”  Evidence is strong that healthy adults can enjoy a moderate amount of coffee without increasing their risk of major chronic diseases like cancer, or premature death, especially from cardiovascular disease. However, the Guidelines caution against loading up coffee with caloric add-ins such as cream and sugar.

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