Crack open a few eggs, and keep your veggies on the plate! The US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans last month, updating us on their recommendations for our nutrition. These Guidelines are released every five years, and while I generally feel that the information included is a bit “behind the curve,” I really appreciate the direction in which they are heading this time. To help you avoid skimming through hundreds of pages of recommendations, I’ve boiled down my top 7 takeaways of the new Guidelines.
7 Things You Need to Understand from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
- Overall Direction: The Guidelines encourage a diet full of a variety of vegetables and fruits, grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, oils, and protein with limited saturated fat (such as eggs, fish, lean meat, poultry, beans, peas, soy, nuts, and seeds), all of which follow the most recent version of MyPlate. I love the focus on vegetables and fruits! However, I don’t believe that low-fat dairy is always the best option (depending on the situation, I may recommend full-fat dairy), and I don’t believe that dairy and grains are necessary parts of every person’s diet.
- Focus on Patterns: The Guidelines shifted this year to focus less on individual nutrients and more on food patterns “across the lifespan” of the individual. This is very important, because I don’t believe we can get all necessary nutrition by focusing solely on specific nutrients. There are simply too many nutrients that are required for optimal health (making it impossible to adequately monitor our intake). Plus, our bodies absorb nutrients best when they are consumed in combination with hundreds of other cofactors, which is why eating an orange (containing hundreds of unique nutrients!) is far more effective than taking a Vitamin C pill. By focusing instead on getting a variety of healthy foods, we ensure that our bodies get the nutrition they need to thrive.
- Eggs: At long last, the government has officially confirmed that there should be no limit on the amount of dietary cholesterol we eat. Dietary cholesterol has minimal impact on the cholesterol you see on your blood test results (which has far more to do with your intake of added sugar, refined foods, additives, water, and nutrient-dense foods like leafy greens). So, we can officially eat all the eggs we want, which is a great thing – I believe eggs are a fantastic component of a healthy diet. For more on this, see this video I made last year.
- Meat and Protein: Several sources note that early drafts of the Guidelines advised Americans to limit our meat consumption overall, but this recommendation was removed for the final version (possibly thanks to lobbyists). The final version does state that teenage boys and men eat too much meat, and advises them to shift consumption towards plant-based sources of protein. The Guidelines also advise keeping saturated fat to 10% of total calorie intake, which inherently limits the amount of red meat we would be advised to eat. I believe that high-quality meat can be part of a healthy diet for most people (and it is part of mine!), but the amount of low-quality, processed meat we are consuming is reaching dangerous levels.
- Added Sugar: we have long since been advised to keep added sugar to 10% of our overall calories (which, in my opinion, is still too high!), but the new Guidelines are even more explicit about the dangers of added sugar. The Guidelines state that limiting our intake of added sugar will lower our risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Here is my take on added sugar.
- Salt: The Guidelines advise us to cut our intake of sodium by about 1/3, to reach 2,300 mg of sodium per day. While I do not worry too much about sodium intake (you can read more about this in my book, Start Here), the fact is that the vast majority of our sodium intake comes from highly-refined, processed foods, and I do believe in reducing those! If we are eating a diet rich in whole, unrefined foods, our sodium balance should normalize itself.
- Coffee and Alcohol: The Guidelines reinforce existing guidance that we should stick to 1 alcoholic drink per day (females) and 2 per day (males), and encourage moderate consumption of coffee (2 cups per day) as healthy. Good news for those who enjoy a cup of coffee to start the day and a glass of wine to wind it down!
There is much, much more information included in the Guidelines, and I encourage those interested to check them out. Until then, I hope this recap helped, and that you go enjoy a few servings of brightly colored veggies!
Now it’s your turn … What is one area where your own diet could improve? Do you agree with the general direction of the Guidelines?