For anyone whose New Year’s resolution involves eating plenty of healthy food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health & Human Services have a suggestion in the new dietary guidelines: “make every bite count.”
The departments released the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans Dec. 29. These guidelines will be the basis for national health objectives, food assistance and meal programs and nutrition education efforts until the next edition of the guidelines comes out in 2025.
“If there’s one thing we know from the new dietary guidelines, it is that good food leads to good health,” said secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue, in a Dec. 29 announcement.
But some argue the guidelines aren’t applicable for the majority of Americans, since, the guidelines say, about 60% of the population is diagnosed with at least one chronic, diet related disease.
“The general public is now ill, afflicted with chronic disease — and we have a national nutrition policy that ignores them,” said Nina Teicholz, executive director of The Nutrition Coalition, in a Dec. 29 statement.
The dietary guidelines say the evidence they are based on represents the U.S. population. The data includes healthy people, those at risk of chronic illnesses and some people living with chronic diseases.
Overall, the guidelines focus on nutrient dense choices that can be customized based on preferences, cultures and budgets and that limit sodium, saturated fat, added sugars and alcohol. For the first time, they include recommendations for each life stage, from birth through adulthood, including guidelines for women who are pregnant or lactating.
The departments rejected recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to cut down limits on alcohol and added sugars. The committee, which helps inform the guidelines, is made up of experts in nutrition and medicine.
The committee recommended cutting the limit for added sugars from 10% down to 6%. For alcohol, the committee recommended cutting the limit from two daily drinks down to one for men, making the recommendation the same for men and women.
Brandon Lipps, deputy under secretary for the USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, said the departments rejected the suggestions because there wasn’t enough evidence for lowering those limits.
The guidelines have four overall recommendations to “make every bite count.”
They include following a healthy dietary pattern at all life stages, customizing nutrient dense food and drink choices, focusing on meeting needs with five food groups — vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and fortified soy alternatives and proteins — while staying within calorie limits and limiting alcohol and choices higher in added sugars, saturated fat and sodium.
The guidelines recommend making half of your plate fruits and vegetables and varying the proteins and vegetables you eat, among other things. The main elements for a healthy diet, the guidelines say, are vegetables of all types, fruits, grains, at least half of which are whole grains, dairy, protein foods and oils. Dairy includes fat free, low fat, lactose free and fortified soy options.
Agriculture groups, including United Fresh Produce Association, the National Dairy Council, the National Milk Producers Federation, the National Pork Board and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, applauded the new guidelines.
The Nutrition Coalition and other groups, including the Low-Carb Action Network and the Food4Health Alliance, argued that guidelines geared towards disease prevention don’t always apply to the large percentage of the population that already has a diet-related disease.
For example, the coalition said, recommendations to eat six servings of grain per day, with half of those refined, and up to 10% of calories coming from added sugars, could be harmful to someone with diabetes.
The Food4Health Alliance added that most of the studies the guidelines are based on were done on white populations. It expressed concern that in addition to not considering Americans with diet related diseases, the guidelines also didn’t use enough data on racial, ethnic and cultural minorities, or populations with a lower socioeconomic status.
The dietary guidelines say while those who have a disease, like diabetes, need clinical treatment, evidence shows that those with hypertension, high cholesterol, pre-diabetes, obesity or those who are overweight would benefit from following the guidelines to prevent disease.
The full guidelines are available at dietaryguidelines.gov.
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