Digesting the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans
What’s for dinner? Unless you’re living on the Biggest Loser ranch where every meal is made for you, it’s a choice people have to make every day. Eat this, not that. Hit the drive-thru or cook at home? You know the drill, right?
Every food choice you make has a cumulative effect on your overall health. And for the typical American, convenience often trumps healthier food choices. And that’s a problem the U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to change.
The USDA recently published the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Boil it down to the basics, and people should be eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole foods, and a lot less sugar and processed foods.
“The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasizes following a healthy dietary pattern, and shifting to healthier food and beverage choices to combat the epidemic of chronic disease in the United States,” says Wellsource medical correspondent Dr. Jane Hart. “The Dietary Guidelines, which are updated every five years, are reported to reflect current research findings on healthy eating patterns recommended for people age two and older.”
The Five Rules of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
If you don’t have time to read the 200-plus page report to get the skinny on the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we understand. It even took us a while to digest. And fortunately, the new guidelines can be summarized into five basic rules to improve your diet:
- Follow a healthy eating pattern (like the Mediterranean Diet).
- Eat more nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods.
- Avoid or limit alcohol and foods with added sugar, saturated fat, and salt.
- Make small changes to your eating habits a little at a time to improve your diet.
- Provide healthy food choices at home, school, work, and community settings.
What’s Different? Main Changes to Previous Dietary Guidelines
Take a quick glance at the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and you may be wondering if anything has changed since the guidelines were last updated. The truth? Not a lot has changed, kind of like the eating habits and activity level for most Americans. But there are a few key updates that deserve a little attention. These changes may even be reflected in the health risk assessment data for your population and could have an impact on your wellness program initiatives. The main changes from the previous Dietary Guidelines include:
Eat less sugar. This was just a general recommendation in the previous guidelines. The new guidelines put a cap on the amount of sugar people should eat. No more than 10 percent of calories per day should come from sugar. For the average adult, this caps sugar consumption at 50g per day.
This could be tough to follow for a lot of people. A typical 16-ounce bottle of soda contains about 40g of sugar. And sugar is found in a long list of other foods like sweets, sauces, salad dressings, cereals, and yogurt.
Control cholesterol. The previous guidelines recommended limiting total cholesterol to no more than 300mg per day. The 2015-2020 guidelines don’t have a cap on cholesterol, but suggest limiting cholesterol and saturated fats for heart health.
Some health professionals consider this a controversial position. People with high total cholesterol have approximately twice the risk for heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Eat healthy fats. People should eat no more than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat. This is the same as the previous recommendation. However, the 2015-2020 guidelines take this a step further and recommend eating healthy fats such as fish, nuts, seeds, and oils.
Take Small Steps to Improve Diet
It’s no secret that fad diets fail. Most are based on highly restrictive eating habits that just aren’t sustainable. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recognize that taking small steps to improve eating habits is the best route to a healthier population.
“It takes time to shift and change habits,” says Hart. “It takes education and perhaps help from a health coach, nutritionist, doctor, or other healthcare professional. But small steps in the right direction can make a big difference over time.”