The government’s surprising new guidelines give burgers the thumbs-up — but hold the ketchup.
Every January, we’re inundated with diet and nutrition tips. But this week, the U.S. government released its latest round of advice, the official Dietary Guidelines. The guidelines, which are revised every five years, are based on evolving nutrition science and serve as the government’s official advice on what to eat.
A lot of it stays unchanged from 2010, including recommendations to eat more fruits, vegetables, fiber, and whole grains — and less salt. But in case all the jargon gets confusing, we’re breaking down some of the most interesting changes.
1. Eggs and shrimp are okay.
One big change you’ll notice in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans? There’s no mention of dietary cholesterol. Instead, the DGA addresses saturated fat consumption, limiting it to 10% of your total calories for the day. Abundant research suggests diets high in saturated fats raise blood cholesterol levels and increase your risk for heart disease. But while cholesterol is only found in animal products, saturated fats are in these foods — plus fried foods and desserts. And not all animal products are created equal (shrimp and eggs, for example, are on the good list), so it makes sense to be wary of saturated fats but not avoid all animal products altogether.
2. Salad dressing, sauce, and soup? Not so much.
It’s a sodium smack-down. The new guidelines limit your total intake to 2300 mg per day. (That’s just a teaspoon of table salt!) Ever worse? The USDA/HHS say the average American consumes 3400 mg daily! If you think this cut-back sounds impossible, there’s good news: Most sodium in our diets comes from processed foods (condiments, frozen meals, baked goods, chips, crackers, cereal, and even some beverages), cooking at home is a simple, delicious, and cost-effective way to limit salt without a major diet-change.
3. Drink lots of coffee — but skip the soda.
If you read GH regularly, you know we’re big java-enthusiasts. And the Dietary Guidelines agree, stating that “moderate coffee consumption” is not only OK, but it’s good for us. (That means about three to five eight-ounce cups per day.) The reason? It’s been linked to reducing your risk of chronic disease — plus, coffee has zero calories!
But the organization comes out against drinks with added sugar. (Many Americans consume up to 22 teaspoons per day!) That means presweetened coffee and tea, soda, and many juices. For the first time, the Dietary Guidelines put a cap on total calories from added sugar, limiting it to 10% of your intake for the day.
4. Wine made the acceptable list!
We know I love a good glass of vino — even every day. But this time, the guidelines actually get specific (and admit that most of us are imbibing regularly). The experts suggest that if alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation — that means up to one drink per day for women and up to two for men (and only by those of legal age, of course.)
5. Recommendations on burgers and bacon are intentionally vague.
Perhaps the biggest deal about the dietary guidelines is that there’s no mention of how much meat to eat. Over the last year, this was a very controversial point: The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (from which the USDA/HHS base their recommendations) specifically advocated last year for “plant-based diets” and those “lower in red and processed meat.” (Last October, the World Health Organization reported evidence linking high-intakes of red and precessed meats to higher risk of cancer.) But the USDA/HHS chose not to recommend against red meat and instead simply suggest eating “a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products.”
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean burgers and bacon are unlimited. Because the guidelines do put a cap on saturated fat and sodium (10% of total calories, and 2300mg per day, respectively), eating just one link of sausage can nudge you over the limit. Bottom line: Eat more veggies, eat less red and processed meat. If the USDA/HHS won’t say it, you can tell everyone you heard it here first!
6. There’s more involved than just our health.
You might have noticed the Dietary Guidelines for Americans tend to be a little bit confusing, and here’s why: When the government talks about what to eat, they use the actual names of foods (leafy greens! milk! seafood!) but when they talk about what to limit, they use nutrient names (saturated fat, added sugar, and sodium).
It’s my opinion (let me reiterate: MY OPINION!) that this is due in large part to protect industries that might be affected by specific call-outs: The meat industry, the sugar industry, and just about any food manufacturer that uses sodium as a preservative for their processed food product (that means nearly everyone).
7. Eat food … not nutrients.
Because of all that, here’s my bottom line: You should limit sugary beverages, packaged snacks, cereals, and baked goods, anything deep-fried (sorry!) and of course, said red and processed meats (see above). Stick with stuff that’s as close to nature as possible — veggies, fruit, legumes, oils nuts and seeds, seafood and lean meat, whole-grains, and low-fat/lower sugar dairy are always A+ choices.
That’s ultimately in line with the biggest takeaway from the 2015 DGA: Eat real food and limit the processed stuff as much as you can. A huge victory of the report is that frozen and canned veggies and fruit got their own shout-out — an important point to remember when thinking that the only way to be healthy is to eat the most perfect organic produce from the farmer’s market (unrealistic, expensive, and unnecessary!) So, wherever you buy them, go for real foods!