Every five years the US Department of Agriculture and Human Services issues new Dietary Guidelines to help Americans maintain their weight and cut their chances of getting a disease. The guidelines always draw public comments and often provoke ire from the food industry.
The latest guidelines, authored by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, an independent panel of 14 appointed doctors and scientists, is no less controversial. Although the overall themes of the 2010 guidelines haven’t changed in the 2015 version, (eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, less salt, and balancing calories), there are some key differences.
Among the changes in the 2015 dietary guidelines are:
- Recommended limits on red and processed meat
- Reduction in sugars to less than 10 percent of daily calories
- Focus on whole foods, not specific nutrients
- Eliminating the upper limit on total fat
In one of the biggest changes, the advisory committee reviewed all the latest information about dietary cholesterol and found there is no need to restrict it anymore. Previously, the recommendation was to limit cholesterol to no more than 300 milligrams a day – or about two eggs.
Substituting one bad habit for another
Linda Gooding, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at Providence’s Boldt Diabetes and Nutrition Center in southwest Washington, supports reducing sugar and red meat consumption, and she believes eliminating the upper limit on fat may be helpful. Still, she knows firsthand how even minor changes in the dietary guidelines can alter eating habits – not always for the better.
Gooding offers an example: “People think reducing their fat intake by eating fat-free foods is good, but fat-free foods are often higher in sugar and salt. You’re much better off eating less salad dressing than choosing a fat-free option, or choosing veggies as a snack instead of fat-free chips,” she says.
The same applies to reducing daily sugar consumption. A diet soda doesn’t have sugar, but it has other ingredients that aren’t healthy either. And research shows that people who drink reduced-calorie beverages tend to make up the calories during meals or by snacking.
Eating on the go
“Americans are snacking more than ever,” says Gooding, and the food industry only tempts us. The flavors infused in snack foods, such as potato chips, make it difficult to resist them and limit their portions, she says.
But lifestyle changes also are to blame. People cook less because of longer work days and busier schedules.
Gooding says nearly one-third of daily calories are coming from outside the home. The main culprits are burgers, sandwiches and tacos – popular on-the-go food that’s also high in saturated fats and sodium.
Old habits, new solutions
Getting people to change their eating habits is a challenge Gooding and her colleagues face daily. “We start slow and take little steps,” she says. In addition to recommending that her clients replace processed and starchy foods with more fresh veggies, Gooding encourages them to limit sweetened beverages such as energy drinks and to watch their carbohydrate intake.
“An easy way to reduce starchy foods, such as potatoes or rice, is to replace part or all with vegetables,” she says. “Try replacing potatoes with cauliflower, using a large lettuce leave instead of a tortilla or adding vegetables to a casserole.”
And those fat-free foods? Gooding recommends eating smaller portions and less of them. She also suggests eating less of some high-fat foods. This includes cheese, which is high in saturated fat.
Next up: new food labels
In another move to encourage Americans to make healthy food choices, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed updating the nutrition facts label found on most food packages. Among the many proposed changes is the amount of a serving size. Because people are eating more, current serving sizes and the amount of calories and nutrients that go with them are out of date.
The FDA wants labels to reflect what people really eat or drink.
That doesn’t mean Gooding recommends people eat more to match the serving size on a label. “We don’t want people eating more ice cream, for example, just because the proposal to increase the serving size of ice cream went from ½ cup to 1 cup. It’s really to give a correct idea of how many calories they might be eating,” she says.