Nutrition

2015-2020 USDA dietary guidelines – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Key Points:

  • The Good: USDA dietary guidelines emphasize low sugar, more fruits and vegetables, less salt.
  • The Bad: USDA dietary guidelines come short in emphasizing less red and processed meats.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and of Agriculture (USDA) just put out the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These newly released 8th edition guidelines have sparked quite a controversy among leading health and nutrition experts. There are some recommendations that clearly serve to improve the overall health/lifestyle of people while others that are questionable at best.

So lets start with the basics. This revision of the guidelines shifts away from individual nutrients and emphasizes eating patterns as a whole. Although they don’t quite succeed, the concept is an important step in the right direction.

The key points of the guidelines are as follows:

      • Limit sugars (< 10% of calories per day from added sugars)
      • Limit saturated fats (<10% calories from saturated fats)
      • Limit sodium (<2300 mg per day)
      • Consume more fruits, vegetables and grains (at least 50% from whole grains).
      • Eat a variety of sources for protein (seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds soy)
      • Eat fat-free or low fat dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese)
      • Oils (canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, sunflower) are part of healthy eating because of their essential fatty acids and Vitamin E.
      • Alcohol should be in moderation: ≤ 1 drink per day for women and ≤ 2 drinks per day for men.

On the surface, the guidelines are definitely a step in the right direction. However, my personal concerns are due to the major differences between these guidelines and the recommendations by Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). The DGAC is an independent body that is not influenced by political and industry influences.  The DGAC pointed out that a healthy dietary pattern consists of higher vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, nuts and low in sugar-sweetened foods, drinks and refined grains. However, it also points out states that healthy dietary pattern is lower in red and processed meat.

There is has been a number of studies linking higher intakes of red and processed meats to variety of cancers (colorectal, pancreatic, prostate). In fact, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently classified processed meat as carcinogenic to humans based on sufficient evidence. It also classified red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans based on limited evidence. Given this data, my recommendation would be in reducing consumption of red and processed meats.

The reason the USDA guidelines matter so much is because these guidelines are used by policymakers in “developing federal food, nutrition and health policies.” Ultimately they form the basis of national food programs such as the food served in our children’s schools, food programs for low-income Americans and even dietary advice for pregnant women.

Overall, I think these guidelines are improving with every edition. Following the guidelines will certainly be a big step forward from the typical western diet.

 

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Dr. Sean

Sean Hashmi, MD, MS, FASN is a practicing Nephrologist and Obesity Medicine Specialist in Southern California. He is founding director of SELFPrinciple.org, a non-profit, non-commercial site focused on evidence based nutrition, health, and wellness.
Dr. Hashmi graduated from the University of California, San Diego Medical School. He completed his residency in Internal Medicine at UCLA-Olive View Medical Center followed by a fellowship in Nephrology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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