The long-anticipated 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans was finally released to the public at 7 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 7. The nutrition world is buzzing about the modifications, additions and omissions that were made in this eighth edition of the Guidelines.
Since 1980, every five years the government has released a set of recommendations based of scientific evidence to help Americans eat a healthier and enjoyable diet. The latest version of The Dietary Guidelines isn’t so different from what has been recommended in the past. A healthy diet includes vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, protein (like lean meat, seafood, beans and nuts), and oils. It also limits sodium, added sugar, saturated and trans fat.
The Dietary Guidelines are neatly divided into five categories:
- Follow a healthy eating pattern throughout your life.
- Everything you choose to eat and drink matters.
- How many calories you take in can help you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and reduce the risk of chronic disease (like diabetes and high blood pressure).
- The foods you eat should fit together like a puzzle so you can get all the nutrients you need without getting too much of the “bad” stuff (like saturated fat) and enough of the “good” stuff (like vitamins and minerals) without going overboard.
- Fresh, canned, dried and frozen foods, can be included.
- Focus on variety, nutrient density and amount.
- Choose different foods from each food group, as different foods provide a different panel of nutrients. For example, choose different colored vegetables (like dark-green spinach and orange carrots).
- Choose fruits, especially whole fruits (as opposed to those that are highly processed and may have sugar added to them).
- Select from a variety of proteins like seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and soy products.
- Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake.
- Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugar (this does not include fruits and dairy foods where sugar is a natural part of the food, only sugars that are added to food).
- Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fat like whole milk and butter.
- Consume less than 2,300 milligrams per day of sodium.
- Shift to healthier food and beverage choices.
- It’s not only about what you eat that matters. The calories in beverages count too!
- Support healthy eating patterns for all.
- A healthy eating pattern includes a variety of foods (listed above) and is adaptable based on a person’s food preferences, traditions, culture and budget.
A few other recommendations, or lack thereof, that should be highlighted:
- Previously, dietary cholesterol was limited to 300 milligrams per day. That recommendation no longer exists, though that doesn’t mean a free-for-all to consume cholesterol.
- Recommendations for caffeine and coffee were provided. The Dietary Guidelines state that if you do consume coffee, up to 400 milligrams per day of caffeine (equivalent to three to five 8-ounce cups) can be part of a healthy eating plan. If you don’t drink coffee, however, the guidelines don’t encourage you to start now.
- If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. This is defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. One drink is defined as 5 fluid ounces of wine, 12 fluid ounces of beer or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof liquor (like vodka or rum).
- The type of fat you choose matters. Plant oils, such as olive and peanut oils, and fat from avocado and olives are better for you. The Dietary Guidelines advise against the consumption of tropical oils like palm and coconut (yes, coconut!) oils.
The bottom line: There are many ways to incorporate the food groups into a healthy eating plan. You do, however, want to consume all the food groups listed so you can take in all the nutrients your body needs to be healthy.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.