The highly anticipated 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Guidelines provide valuable insight into what nutrition trends and science the agencies currently support and are expected to have a wide impact on food sales and food consumption in the country—some estimates suggest that the Guidelines affect one in every four meals consumed. The Guidelines are issued to help all individuals consume a healthy, nutritionally adequate diet, and state and local governments will use them in developing their food, nutrition and health policies and programs, including school lunch programs and nutrition programs for the elderly.

Congress requires the two agencies to issue new guidelines every five years based on advances in scientific and medical knowledge, and many were eager to see how the new guidelines would incorporate the findings of scientific studies published since the guidelines were last issued in 2011.

Perhaps the most anticipated change made to the Dietary Guidelines is the removal of the daily dietary cholesterol limit that was first introduced in the 1970’s. This change most affects high cholesterol/low-saturated fat foods such as eggs and shellfish and represents a dramatic shift in agency guidance, as the previous guidelines recommended that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300mg per day. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee supported this change by stating that there is no evidence showing an appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum (blood) cholesterol, but not all nutritional professionals agree. Others question whether the decision to remove the recommended cholesterol limit was also influenced by the availability of statins as a medication to lower cholesterol levels, making dietary intake less important than it once was.    

Another anticipated change to the Dietary Guidelines is a slight increase in the recommended daily sodium limits, from 1,500mg per day to 2,300mg per day. The new recommendation tracks the findings of a 2013 report by the Institute of Medicine which did not find any benefits to daily sodium intake of less than 2,300mg. It is worth noting, however, that the new recommendation is still well below the average American’s daily sodium intake of 3,400mg.

Notably absent from the 2015 Daily Guidelines is a dietary limit for red or processed meat, despite the recent report issued by the World Health Organization declaring such meats as cancer-causing. While not going so far as to recommend a limit on the intake of red or processed meat, the 2015 Daily Guidelines do put an emphasis on a varied diet with significant contributions from vegetables, fruits and whole grains, perhaps encouraging the move towards a diet of reduced meat intake.   

Overall, the 2015 Guidelines explain that a healthy eating pattern includes the following:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups: dark green, red, and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other;
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits;
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains;
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages;
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products;
  • Oils.

To achieve best achieve these healthy eating patterns, the 2015 Guidelines provide the following quantitative recommendations:

  • Added Sugars: Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars;
  • Saturated Fats: Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats;
  • Sodium: Consume less than 2,300mg per day of sodium;
  • Alcohol: If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation (described as one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men).

Or to put it another way:  stay away from the donuts, eat your fruits and veggies, and a steak every once in a while isn’t going to kill you.  (Sounds suspiciously familiar….)