What’s New In The USDA Dietary Guidelines?

USDAGuidelinesSusan Brown Health and Wellness Editor



At long last, the new dietary guidelines were announced last week amid controversy about corporate and political influences, sustainable agriculture and food security. So much so, that Congress will hold a hearing to review the science behind the recommendations, even though the highly qualified academic researchers took into account over 4,000 scientific studies. The Dietary Guidelines Committee, an independent group of 14 doctors and scientists, issued a 570-page report reflecting not only general dietary recommendations, but also advising on the environmental impact of food production.

Even though the guidelines are just advisory to many Americans, they are extremely important, as they are mandatory for millions of military personnel, National School Lunch Programs and for approximately 40 million low income families served by the Federal Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.

The committee focused on examining dietary patterns, combinations and quantity of food and nutrients consumed and their synergistic and cumulative effects on health and disease. To summarize what the committee determined:

  • Half of all American adults–117 million individuals–have one or more preventable chronic diseases
  • Nearly two-thirds of adults –155 million people—are overweight or obese
  • Two decades of poor dietary patterns, overconsumption of excess calories and lack of physical activity are contributing factors in obesity and chronic disease
  • Positive lifestyle and dietary changes could substantially improve public health outcomes
  • The most underconsumed nutrients, resulting in a shortfall and adverse health outcomes, are vitamins A, E and C, folate, calcium, magnesium, fiber and potassium
  • Iron deficiency was listed as a nutrient shortfall for adolescent and premenopausal females
  • Teen boys and adult males consume too much animal protein and not enough plant based foods
  • The majority of the population consume a diet too high in saturated fat, added sugars and sodium and too low in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy
  • A healthy dietary pattern associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity was identified as higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, seafood, legumes and nuts; moderate in alcohol consumption; and lower in red and processed meats, sugar and refined grains
  • Multi-component obesity prevention recommendations included nutrition education, improved dietary intake of fruits and vegetables, increased access to healthy food in low income and underserved communities and promotion of physical activity
  • A focus on sustainable diets that are higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods as more health promoting with a lower environmental impact
  • Linking health, dietary guidance and the environment will promote human health and sustainability of natural resources and ensure short and long term food security
  • In a nutshell, a moderate amount of coffee is beneficial, added sugars should be limited to 10% of daily calories, sodium intake should not exceed one teaspoon daily, and limits on eggs and dietary cholesterol consumption were removed but suggestions were made to eat in moderation within a healthy eating pattern

The controversy:

  • The guidelines completely ignored the environmental impact and sustainability of food production that many believe is the result of lobbyists and politicians questioning the science behind the recommendations
  • The continued recommendation to continue to eat a low-fat diet even though multiple scientific studies have shown that healthy fats are an essential and necessary part of human nutrition
  • The lack of clear guidance on how much red and processed meat can be safely consumed, ignoring the World Health Organization’s finding that these foods are linked to a higher cancer risk
  • Nutritionists argued that no distinctions were made between the sources of fats and carbohydrates to distinguish between healthy foods and junk foods

So, as some contend that the guidelines were influenced by the food industry and did not go far enough to protect public health, others praise the recommendations as sound and sensible and based on strong scientific evidence. The well intentioned advice to eat a more plant based diet to protect against obesity, heart disease, cancer and other serious nutrition related health conditions is still up against sophisticated and powerful marketing campaigns of special interest groups that promote foods and beverages that directly contradict this advice. Don’t expect them to give up easily.

While some, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, support keeping politics out of dietary guidelines, they acquiesce that this may remain an impossibility for “as long as nutrition is received via food and food remains a commodity that is produced and consumed.” So, it’s really up to you, as an individual, to decide for yourself. Some will continue on a path to poor health through poor nutrition and others will follow some good nutritional advice to support their own good health and longevity. The Dietary Guidelines Committee hopes the majority will choose the latter.

USDA Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/PDFs/Scientific-Report-of-the-2015-Dietary-Guidelines-Advisory-Committee.pdf
New “Dietary Guidelines” Recommends Eating Less Sugar and Meat. https://cspinet.org/new/201601071.html
HHS and USDA Release New Dietary Guidelines to Encourage Healthy Eating Patterns to Prevent Chronic Diseases. http://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2016/01/07/hhs-and-usda-release-new-dietary-guidelines-encourage-healthy-eating-patterns-prevent-chronic.html
Here’s What the Government Says You Should Eat. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016/01/07/new-nutrition-guidelines-meat-eggs-are-ok-to-eat-after-all-usda-says
How Agriculture Controls Nutrition Guidelines. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/10/ag-v-nutrition/409390/
The government’s new dietary guidelines ignite a huge food industry backlash. http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-dietary-guidelines-trigger-industry-backlash-20151007-column.html
Why the new, proposed U.S. dietary guidelines are provoking controversy and ire. http://fortune.com/2015/10/07/dietary-guidelines-usda/

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