I’m just guessing here, but I bet that you probably are not interested in reading the 500+page report from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee last week. No worries (and I don’t blame you)! The Committee (made up of 14 recognized experts in the field of nutrition and health) has been at work for the last year and a half or so, reviewing pertinent new science in order to present their Scientific Report to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, who are jointly responsible for revising the Dietary Guidelines. Why do they need revising? Because science changes, because the state of Americans’ health changes, and because the Dietary Guidelines form the backbone upon which rests a good deal of national nutrition policy—including those of public food and nutrition programs like school lunch.
What’s the goal of the US Dietary Guidelines in the first place?
The first edition of the Dietary Guidelines appeared in 1980, though in 1990 Congress mandated that they be reviewed and updated every five years. According to the Department of Agriculture, the Dietary Guidelines provide “…advice for making food and physical activity choices that promote good health, a healthy weight, and help prevent disease for Americans ages 2 years and over, including Americans at increased risk of chronic disease.” All meetings of the Committee were open to the public via webcast technology to foster transparency, and the public also has opportunities to submit written comments on the process and work of the Committee.
What’s new and different about the Committee’s suggestions?
The Scientific Reports’ Executive Summary gives a synopsis of the Committee’s suggestions. It’s important to remember that the Scientific Report is not the actual Dietary Guidelines themselves—those are yet to come. However, here are some of the highlights from the Report :
- Dietary cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern (this recommendation was a long time coming, and other countries had taken cholesterol off their list of concerns some years ago)
- We’re encouraged to eat a more plant-based diet and cut back on red meat and processed meat
- Nearly half of total sugar consumption comes from beverages other than milk and 100% fruit juice; they recommend limiting sugar and sugar-sweetened drinks to less than 10% of total calories per day
- Consider the environment and sustainability when making food choices (the first time for this type of suggestion)
- Focus on limiting saturated fats in the diet as opposed to total fat (aim for less than 10% of total calories per day), as this appears to be a more effective way to positively impact cardiovascular health
- Moderate coffee consumption (3-5 cups per day) is given the green light for safety, and is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes in adults (just watch the added cream and sugar). However, the consumption of caffeinated beverages by children and teens should be low to none—and energy drinks are specifically called out as being linked with caffeine toxicity and cardiovascular issues.
The new set of 2015 Dietary Guidelines should be released next fall. There is a public meeting set for March 24th in Maryland, where oral comments can be made—or you can just go watch the proceedings. Register by March 9th if you’re interested in attending.