New Dietary Guidelines Actually Offer A Few Surprises

January 07, 2016

The new Dietary Guidelines are here!

Originally published at

After almost a year since the initial recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee were made public, practically every food company and trade association have been hotly debating whether or not this committee overstretched their authority.

The issues that were most controversial for the industry include the long-term impact of consuming meat for the sustainability of the planet, finally putting a recommendation on limiting added sodium and sugars and questioning the effect of “high-intensity” sweeteners on one’s ability to maintain a healthy weight.

The activity on the Hill appeared to be unprecedented as the impact of these recommendations would have an effect on thousands of products on our supermarket shelves.

The Dietary Guidelines are released every five years; and with the current administration’s nutrition based efforts, clearly the 2015 Committee seemed to have more confidence to make hard decisions. In this morning’s press conference call, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Birdwell presented a short overview of the highlights. Her main points included some reasons why the Guidelines are so important: the removal of a recommendation for dietary cholesterol, the fact that Type 2 Diabetes cost the nation more than $245 billion last year, how almost 90% of all Americans eat more than 2,300 mg. of sodium each day (in fact the average is 3,400 mg.) and that preparing your own meals can provide a healthier diet.

There are five major Guidelines listed in the report:

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
  4. Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
  5. Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities

The Key Recommendations listed in the Guidelines that “are quantitative (and) are provided for several components of the diet that should be limited. These will be the most cumbersome to many food companies, it is important to note, as was stated on the call, that these Guidelines may or may not be reflected in the new Nutritional facts label that appears on packaging – that is the domain of the USDA.

Here’s what the Key recommendations are:

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats
  • Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age.

The most controversial issue in the original recommendations, and the most questioned on the press conference call, was about the sustainability of meat, which was not included in the 2015 final Guidelines. The Assistant Secretary, when asked why, stated that in reviewing the 1990 scope of the Guidelines the Committee did not have the authority to include the sustainability recommendation.

The other hotly contested issue, which is included, is about added sugars and high-intensity sweeteners (i.e., artificial sweeteners) which I have little doubt we have not heard the last of. The reason for the limit is, according the the Guidelines is “that many foods high in calories from added sugars (the two main sources being sugar sweetened beverages and snacks & sweets) provide few or no essential nutrients or dietary fiber, and therefore, may contribute to excess calorie intake without contributing to diet quality.”

The next step for the Guidelines is to communicate these clearly to consumers. As the Secretary stated, these guidelines are designed for health professionals to read, not the lay consumer. You can find the Executive Summary of the report here.  They are designed tow serve our Registered Dietitians, food retailers and brands the information to empower their shoppers. Consumers however do have a tool to explain how these Guidelines should be used at the USDA website Choose My Plate.