The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to mixed reviews. The guidelines are updated every five years, and among the new revisions are updated recommendations for sugar consumption and new cholesterol guidelines.
The federal government has been publishing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years since 1980 with the goal of providing sound recommendations for a balanced diet to promote health and prevent chronic disease. The Guidelines are used to shape programs and federal policies related to food, nutrition and health including Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the National School Lunch Program and the Older Americans Act Nutrition Programs, to name a few. Additionally, various industries and organizations reference the Guidelines when developing their food and beverage products.
Significant changes in the 2015 Guidelines include:
- Sugar Consumption – limit sugar consumption to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. Many Americans currently consume up to 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, which is double the recommended amount (based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet).
- Dietary Cholesterol – no daily limit on dietary cholesterol. This change was made based on a lack of strong evidence that shows limiting cholesterol-rich foods lowers the amount of LDL cholesterol (a contributor to heart disease) that ends up in the blood.
Some critics of the revised Guidelines made their opposition known. Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), commented on the omission of a recommendation to reduce consumption of red and processed meat. “Cholesterol in eggs, poultry, cheese and meat contributes to heart attacks and other health risks,” said Barnard.
PCRM added to that statement by saying, “The guidelines do not go far enough to convey the dire health consequences of consuming processed meats — carcinogens which the World Health Organization recently placed in the same category as cigarettes and asbestos.” The World Health Organization’s report was a hazard assessment and not an evaluation of risk, however, and experts note that eating processed or red meat by themselves should not be considered a risk.
Dr. Michael Gregor of NutritionFacts.org also commented on the Guidelines by saying, “…the finalized guidelines tend to be watered down for political palatability compared to the scientific advisory committee recommendations.” At the same time, Gregor approved of the Guidelines’ recommendation on sugar consumption limits.
And the environmental group Friends of the Earth expressed their disapproval of the new Guidelines. Kari Hamerschlag, senior program manager for Friends of the Earth, stated, “Given the huge health and environmental costs of diets high in factory-farmed meat, the lack of clear guidance on lowering meat consumption does a disservice to the public and our future food security.”
While the Guidelines certainly don’t make everyone happy, they do provide information for Americans to make informed choices about their diets that can benefit their health. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said, “We may not be able to make broccoli taste like ice cream. But we can help make nutrition choices more understandable so families can make the best decisions for their health.” And who can really argue with that?