The new nutrition guidelines: What you need to know
with advice from Anna Dark
Every few years, the Departments of Agriculture and of Health and Human Services analyze their nutritional recommendations and release a new set of guidelines. If you don’t feel like reading through the three chapters and 14 appendices of the latest release, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, nutritionist and personal trainer Anna Dark will take you through the latest changes and updates.
Anna, who works at the Take Charge Fitness Program (a wellness program at Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality member in Tennessee), says there are three big recommendations that have been added to this edition:
Limit your added sugar intake to 10% of your daily calories. This refers to any product or food item that adds sugars, like soda or cookies, as compared to fruit or even vegetables that may naturally contain some sugar. As the New York Times points out, “It is not the natural sugar in dairy foods and fruits that undermine health so much as the sugars added to foods like ice cream and fruit drinks and the enormous array of dessert and snack foods that Americans consume.”
This trend of increasing sugar in our diet is one of the reasons that the prevalence of type 2 diabetes is increasing. Anna points out that by limiting added sugar, we can reduce our chance of developing the disease.
Reduce your daily sodium intake to less than 2300 mg/day. This is another recommendation that isn’t too surprising; many processed foods rely on sodium, or salt, to improve flavor. The convenience can come at a cost: High sodium intake has a direct correlation to high blood pressure. Anna reminds readers that achieving healthy blood pressure numbers is an important goal for optimal overall health!
Less than 10% of daily calories should come from saturated fats. Evidence shows a diet high in saturated fats leads to cardiovascular disease, says Anna. The American Heart Association goes even further, recommending a daily limit of 5-6% of your daily calories. That means that if you’re eating 2,000 calories a day, about 120 of them would come from saturated fats, or 13 grams.
So the guidelines recommend limiting salt, added sugar and saturated fats. While this is the first time that the USDA and the HHS have specifically outlined these limits, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Past guidelines have always emphasized fresh fruits and vegetables over fatty and processed foods.
One recommendation that has changed? The guidelines no longer advise a specific cholesterol limit, Anna notes, because after several studies, the scientists and nutritionists did not find enough evidence to give a specific limit. The guidelines do recommend limiting cholesterol, but note that foods often high in cholesterol are also high in saturated fats, so by limiting one, you’ll often limit the other. The exceptions to this rule are eggs and shellfish, which means that those foods would not be as limited as they were before.
As always, these guidelines are just a guide, not hard and fast rules. They are meant to give Americans tips on how to improve their diet and eat healthier food. This version even includes sample days for three different types of diets: An American diet, a Mediterranean diet and a vegetarian diet. It’s one way to evaluate your own choices to consider whether you’re making healthy choices whenever you eat.
For further reading, look through our selection of articles on nutrition, in addition to the below links:
Saturated fats. American Heart Association, October 12, 2016.
Brody, Jane E. What’s new in the dietary guidelines? New York Times, January 18, 2016.
Christensen, Jen. New U.S. dietary guidelines limit sugar, rethink cholesterol. CNN, January 7, 2016.
2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th ed. U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. December 2015.