The U.S. 2015-2020 dietary guidelines released on January 7 may be of some help to those who are interested in improving their own health through a better eating plan. The new guidelines offer guidance on what constitutes a beneficial eating plan, based on varying calorie content. But the kind of advice you’ll get from the new healthy eating recommendations depends entirely on what you are looking for.
It does not constitute a weight-loss plan. It does not state in simple terms that one antidote to overweight and obesity is eating less. It addresses healthful foods and ideal proportions of those foods in a healthy eating plan. It also speaks about exercise, something critics charge is beyond the purview of the agencies that compiled the guide.
According to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, this year’s revision faced increased scrutiny over the science leading to the adopted recommendations, even a congressional hearing and a review by the National Academy of Medicine.
This eighth version of government guidelines actually clarifies few dietary misconceptions. It modifies previous limits, notably on salt consumption, hedges its bets on others, and offers little new information. You can find specific examples of meal plans, portion sizes and food combinations. It stresses the value of a “nutrient-dense” diet, but it has prompted varied reaction from dieticians and nutritionists.
In the past, dietary guidelines have contained bold and stringent recommendations that have later been modified or even reversed. Perhaps that is why this current edition seems to be rather bland and non-committal. Detractors blame lobbyists and special interest groups for some recommendations that are left out, specifically a caution on red meat consumption, more definitive discussion of alcohol and an implied tolerance for some trans fats.
The “typical American pattern” of eating is discussed, but is not truly defined. That is a problem in the minds of many critics, who cite an unhealthy preponderance of high-calorie processed foods in the American diet.
Highlights of the Five-Year Guide
Some notable changes in the 2015-2020 guidelines include:
- Removal of limits on cholesterol; the new guide is silent on the subject.
- Coffee: Up to five eight-ounce cups a day are now deemed to be healthy. Coffee lovers can breathe easily until 2020, at least.
- Skipping breakfast is no longer a no-no, despite what several generations of students have been taught.
Key recommendations limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams daily, up a bit from previous recommendations, and suggest limiting added sugars and saturated fats each to less than 10 percent of total calories consumed. In addition, the guidelines stipulate that men should consume no more than two alcoholic beverages a day, while one is the limit for women.
Additional data on eating vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, fats and protein is supplied for different calorie levels, designed to accommodate the nutritional needs of different age groups and activity levels.
Another section addresses ways to implement a healthy eating pattern: “Individuals have more than one way to achieve a healthy eating pattern. Any eating pattern can be tailored to the individual’s socio-cultural and personal preferences.” In an effort to be inclusive, it is also stipulated, “All forms of foods, including fresh, canned, dried, and frozen, can be included in healthy eating patterns.”
The Takeaway — What Does it Mean?
The goal is to raise awareness of nutritional needs, based on scientific research, and to improve overall health and wellness. But over the past five decades, American health has not improved, incidences of certain diseases certain diseases have skyrocketed and are at least partially attributed to diet and the percentage of overweight and obese individuals continues to increase. According to an article in The Washington Post, there may be little reason to expect this report to have a different effect.
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