Recommendations from the US Dietary Guidelines Scientific Advisory Committee

Every 5 years, the federal government publishes the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. You may wonder why the guidelines need to be updated every 5 years. The answer is that nutrition science is an evolving field, and as a result, recommendations change over time.

The process for publishing new guidelines starts with a scientific advisory committee that pores over the latest research in human health and nutrition. The committee analyzes this information and then publishes its recommendations. Before these recommendations are  adopted, there is a public comment period, during which individuals, but mostly lobbies and corporations try to influence the final recommendations. This period lasts about one year and, finally, the Dietary Guidelines for America are published.

Last week, 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee published its Scientific Report and it is now open to public comments. The recommendations are actually very good:

1. Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts.

2. Eat less red and processed meat. This is the first time a clear message to reduce red meat consumption has been heard. Will it be muffled by the time the actual guidelines are published?

3. Limit consumption of alcohol, sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, and refined grains.

4. Eat more plant based foods and eat less animal based foods. It’s good for you AND the environment. This is the first time that the impact of food processing on the planet has been tackled in this forum.

5. Population health must become a national priority, in part by taking bold actions to change the food environment in America:

“individuals and organizations, private business, and communities work together to achieve a population-wide “culture of health” in which healthy lifestyle choices are easy, accessible, affordable, and normative.”

Some of the bold strategies that the committee is open to exploring include taxing sugary soft drinks, limiting junk food marketing to kids, and incentivizing SNAP (food stamps) receipients to purchase healthy foods.

6. Limit saturated fat. Despite many books and celebrities promoting the opposite, the most current scientific evidence (“strong and consistent”) still points to reduction of saturated fats and their replacement with unsaturated fats as a sound strategy to reduce heart disease. Total fat reduction does not decrease risk of disease. Replacing saturated fat with refined carbohydrates does increase the risk of disease.

7. Added sugars in the diet must be drastically reduced. The committee recommends added sugars stay below 10 percent of caloric intake. In a 2000 calorie diet, this works out to 200 calories, the equivalent of 50 grams of sugar, or 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day. One can of soda and you’re done!

8. Aspartame at the level consumed by the US public appears to be safe for most people but may cause cancer in some. The committee recommends additional research.

9. The committee is concerned about the growing consumption of highly caffeinated drinks by young people, which can lead to caffeine toxicity and cardiovascular events. The recommendation is to limited or no consumption.

10. Dietary cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern. For years, the recommendation was to limit intake of dietary cholesterol to no more than 300mg a day. A single egg has almost 200mg.