The US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services have just announced the new US Dietary Guidelines for 2015-2020. These guidelines are probably the most important statement that the federal government makes on nutrition; they set standards for public school lunches, food stamps, prisons, federal cafeterias, and all kinds of state and federal programs.
The influence of lobbyists on these guidelines is pretty evident, say critics. The egg lobby is being blamed for swaying the feds into giving egg consumption a big green light. Health advocates also say that pressures from the meat industry, which managed to take potential sustainability and pollution problems out of the equation, led to red meat pretty much getting a pass on this go-around, despite a recent report by the World Health Organization that processed meats are horrible for you.
The biggest news, though, is sugar: for the first time ever, the government says Americans should limit their daily consumption of sugar to only 10 percent of daily calories. That may seem like a lot of sugar, but the average Americans consume up to 22 teaspoons a day. The new targets mean a person who eats a 2,000-calorie diet should limit themselves to no more than 12 teaspoons a day. Given sugar's ubiquity in processed foods, that may not be so easy for those shopping the middle aisles of supermarkets. The new sugar recommendations reflect recent research that links high sugar consumption to a variety of diseases, including of course, diabetes and heart disease.
Another big story is dietary cholesterol, which fares better in this set of guidelines than it did in earlier ones. The new guidelines get rid of the long-held belief that people should limit cholesterol from food to 300 milligrams a day. This change comes as a result of evidence that dietary cholesterol is not what makes artery-clogging LDL cholesterol rise.
Salt suffered a blow in this round of guidelines: Americans aged 14 and older limit are told to their sodium intake to the equivalent of a single teaspoon of table salt a day. Needless to say, that's not much salt.
The bulk of the advice, however, is unchanged from 2010's report. It emphasizes a diet that focuses on consuming more fruits and vegetables, as well as more fiber and whole grains.
Even though red meat didn't get the big whack it could have received, it did get an indirect blow in the recommendation that people should limit their saturated fat consumption to no more than 10 percent of a person's daily calorie intake. Also, the guidelines say people should "shift toward other protein foods" including nuts, seeds, and seafood.
Naturally, some people are up in arms about the new guidelines. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine went so far as to file a lawsuit this week against the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services charging that egg-industry interests unduly influenced the research the report relies on.
The American College of Cardiology also added their two cents: "People do not need to obtain cholesterol through diet and should eat as little as possible," says Dr. Kim Allan Williams, president of the cardiologists' professional association.
Fortunately, everyone seems to agree that coffee is cool. In the new guidelines, coffee got the A-OK because the drafters relied on research that showed that drinking three to five cups of coffee a day actually protects against Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and maybe even Parkinson's disease.
So bottoms up on the java. Just don't put any sugar in that coffee.