As you may have heard, the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) were recently released. The DGA were first created in 1980 and are updated every 5 years, based on new science. (By the way, we still follow the Food Pyramid, it’s time to check out MyPlate.)
Here’s my take on the wins and losses regarding what changed (and didn’t) this year.
Focus on Dietary Patterns, Less on Individual Nutrients – The meal patterns they recommend are a healthy American, vegetarian, or Mediterranean diet. All of these patterns have ample evidence to support them and the DGA point out that you don’t have to pick just one. You can switch them up based on what you feel like. They characterize a healthy eating pattern by lots of vegetables, whole fruits, grains (mostly whole grains), low-fat or fat-free dairy, a variety of types of protein, and oils.
Meat – There is brief mention of men and boys reducing their intake of red meat, poultry, and eggs while increasing their intake of other protein sources including beans, nuts, seeds, and seafood. But 1) nobody actually needs meat, though it can be included in moderation. Yes, men and boys eat more meat than women, but based on the advisory committee’s report, just make the recommendation for everyone to eat less meat; and 2) there is no mention of processed meats, which are more of an issue than meat in general.
Portion Sizes – This is one of the biggest issues in the American diet. We simply eat too much. People need to learn what a portion size of a given food looks like. The DGA would be the perfect resource for that, but they don’t go into it (not that I could find, at least).
Wordplay – This is by far the worst part of the DGA, as it always has been. Recommendations are vague and indirect. When it’s recommended you should eat more of something, the report mention “foods.” When it’s recommended you should eat less of something, the report mentions “nutrients” (i.e. salt, saturated fat, sugar; see below: The Meh). While the general focus is on overall patterns, this back and forth between “foods” and “nutrients” is confusing for consumers. Should we be following a pattern or do we need to be tracking our nutrient intake? People want to know how to improve their health, so be direct and tell them how: eat fewer processed foods, less meat, fewer sodas/sweetened beverages/sweetened yogurt/cake/cookies…sweet stuff.
Physical activity – The 2015-2020 DGA now have recommendations on physical activity…a bit suspect since physical activity is not diet. However, I’m not that bent out of shape about there being physical activity recommendations in the DGA because perhaps having them in the same space as the dietary rec’s could lead to people actually reading them. But we do already have a document for this exact purpose, and it’s called the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
The Three S’s – The recommendations for salt (2,300 mg/day) and saturated fat (no more than 10% of total calories) remain the same, while a recommendation for added sugar (no more than 10% of total calories) was added.
Since the other two didn’t change, let’s focus on the sugar recommendation. I absolutely don’t support eating a lot of added sugar, but I’m also slow to vilify individual foods/nutrients, which is what has been happening with sugar. We should consider the whole low-fat fad of the 1980’s and the subsequent obesity epidemic as a cautionary tale of what happens when we let out a war cry against a single nutrient.
So, there it is. The good, the bad, and the meh of the 2015-2020 DGA. What did you think of the new recommendations?