No doubt if you’re reading this you’ve set yourself a New Year’s resolution to eat better this year. Well, the US government released their dietary guidelines regarding a “healthy eating pattern”, stating how we should limit our sugar intake, saturated fat intake, eat less salt and adding more vegetables and whole grains.
- Note: These guideline recommendations come with some controversy. Some experts believe that important studies were omitted from the overall results that would alter the recommendations, others believe there to be some bias involved in some of what’s recommended from some committee members. So as you read these, keep common sense in mind and keep to the spirit of what’s being recommended.
Now, let’s take a trip back a little shall we? You might remember the food pyramid poster from your grade school days, or the “My Plate” icon from your child’s cafeteria. These posters are a boiled-down version of a complicated food science discussion between government-appointed experts, and all the other players in this food fight – dietitians, scientists, doctors and medical associations – the food industry and the public. These guidelines, are revised every five years, and the draft version of this year’s guide came in months ago at more than 500 pages.
In the end, there are some breadcrumbs — whole-wheat of course — of advice to follow. The guidance impacts everything from what’s served in school and prison lunches (let’s hope you never have to find out), to food labels and how they work. It helps people like me, Nutritionists and Dietitians guide our clients. It also puts pressure on manufacturers and restaurants about what they put in their food.
Here are 9 things you should know about the 2015 guidelines:
1. Extract That Sweet Tooth
For the first time, the government has put a limit on sugar – saying that added sugar should make up only 10% of your daily calories. The guidelines are based on Americans eating a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, so 10% of that diet is about 50 grams of sugar. Drinking more than one can of full sugar soda maxes out that limit. The guideline isn’t as strict as what the AHA (American Heart Association) suggests…it recommends about half that…but the limit is significant. If you’re looking for a refreshing energy-providing drink, you might want to consider ENERGY by It Works, (Can/USA) which has about 13g of sugar that comes from natural fructose contained in the juices it uses.
- Note: People with certain conditions like diabetes, should never be drinking a sugar-sweetened beverage. Ever. Period. Some low-calorie sweeteners can even be worse for the body than sugar because of their sensitivity to things like temperature change or how they react to being mixed with ingredients from other foods.
Eating a diet with a lot of sugar increases your risk for heart disease, and can lead to obesity and all the diseases associated with that, including cancer and Type 2 diabetes.
If you have a sweet tooth, look for less-sweet substitutes. Replace full-sugar sodas with seltzer and a splash of cranberry juice for instance. Also, keep in mind that sugar comes in more than cookies and candy form. Sauces and dressings can trip you up too. I’ve seen, while shopping for salad dressings in the grocery store for example, dressings that had more sugar than 4 donuts…yep, 4. Check the labels for sugar that goes by other names like added fructose, sucrose, corn syrup or honey. Even natural sugars can have a negative effect on your health…and waistline.
2. The Easter Bunny Smiles…
If you’re a certain age, your doctor may have told you to watch the cholesterol in your diet. At your next appointment, that advice could change, as past guidelines have suggested a 300mg daily limit of dietary cholesterol. In simple terms, a two-egg breakfast rather than three.
Now, the government has removed the limit on cholesterol. It did add that “individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible” since “foods that are higher in dietary cholesterol, such as fatty meats and high-fat dairy products, are also higher in saturated fats.” What that now means is, eggs are back for most diets. Egg yolks are high in cholesterol yes, but not high in saturated fat. They make the list of suggested sources of protein. Yay!
Bottom line here, if you connect the dots together scientifically, the belief is that there is a strong influence between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. My training as a Nutritionist showed me, that eating eggs didn’t increase your cholesterol as much as saturated fat does. It’s about time that the government catches up to science.
- Note: 50% of the nutritional value found in eggs is contained in the yolk. This doesn’t mean you should start consuming them in vast amounts, cholesterol is still bad for you, however, the nutritional benefits of eggs does currently out-weigh the negative implications….at least for another 5 years. Moderation folks…moderation.
3. Bacon Stay Put…What Smells Fishy?
Looking over the guidelines, they emphasize eating protein-rich food, which helps retain muscle mass as we age, and plays a role in keeping our metabolism running smoothly. The new guidelines continue to emphasize eating protein from seafood, lean meats and poultry. There is a specific mention of eating at least 8 ounces of seafood per week. (I’ll post some recipes to help you with that) The guidelines also single out men and boys for eating too much protein.
The summary does not suggest a limit on processed or red meat, even though they hinted at it in the draft version of this report, but it does mention that there is evidence that a lower intake of meats overall, as well as eating less processed meat and poultry, does reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Processed meats like bacon and hot dogs have been linked to an increased cancer risk, and in 2015 the WHO (World Health Organization) suggested people avoid them. These new guidelines do not. Instead, the guidelines say they can be accommodated as long as sodium, saturated fats, added sugars and total calories are within limits in the resulting eating pattern. Go Bacon!
- Note: Processed meats have been deemed carcinogenic – meaning, they’ve been linked to causing cancer due to the processes that they go through. Red meat has also been linked to being a carcinogen, however, more research is being done with this to clarify just what those links are, and how severe the connection is.
If you eat meat, like me, it’s suggested for the meat, poultry and eggs subgroup — eat 26 ounce-equivalents per week (3.7oz/portion) based on a US-style and 2,000 calorie diet. It’s the same suggestion from the 2010 guidelines actually.
If you’re a vegetarian, vegan or other variation of the veg-dietary group, you have options too. Soy products, beans, lentils and seeds are a good protein source according to the guidelines.
4. Thank Your Mother
Your Mom was right to tell you to eat your fruits, especially whole fruits, veggies and grains, at least half of which are whole grains. The guidelines recommend eating two-and-a-half cups of a wide variety of vegetables from all the subgroups of colors and starches a day. A hidden advantage of this suggestion is that it can make you feel full without eating a lot of calories. The suggested two cups of fruit a day, with half of that coming in the form of whole fruit, provides many essential vitamins and some have high fiber, which helps you with digestion. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps prevent heart disease and Type 2 diabetes as well.
The committee noted in the draft guidance that whole grains are a “shortfall nutrient” in American diets. Brown rice, quinoa (pr. keen-wah) and oats are rich in fiber, calcium and vitamin D, and can help with digestion. When eating 6 ounce equivalents of grains, half of them should be of the whole grain variety. Studies have shown that eating cereals can help you live a longer life…just lay off the frosted types though.
5. Everyone Raise Your Cup Up….
The guidelines don’t suggest you start drinking…gotcha…but if you do, not to worry.
Alcohol consumed in moderation is OK. For women, that means no more than one drink a day, for men, it’s two. Drinking a daily glass of wine has been associated with a benefit to your heart. (I can think of a few women with Cheshire Cat grins on their faces right now)
Moderate coffee drinking is also highlighted in the suggested menu. Moderate coffee drinking is defined as drinking 3 to 5 cups a day. Coffee has been shown to possibly reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and it may even protect against Parkinson’s disease.
- Note: The human body was never designed to process alcohol properly. There are beverages that have some positive attributes like red wine’s anti-oxidants, however, the best protocol to implement here is “limited exposure”. Your liver and lungs will thank you immensely.
6. Fat’s Back….kind of.
The 2010 dietary guidelines allowed for 10% of your calories to come from saturated fat. This time, the guidelines keep the same recommendation, but also expanded upon the concept of “good fat”.
You see, some fat is vital to your health. “Good” fat includes heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids like the kind found in some fish. Fat from oils, about 5 teaspoons per day is also Ok.
Saturated fat, or the “Bad” kind that comes from meat, poultry and dairy can raise blood cholesterol, which might increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, weight gain, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Trans fat, which is a liquid fat made solid via chemicals…well, let’s suffice it to say, consume them as little as possible — they’re harder to find now that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) told manufacturers to eliminate it from food. Eating trans fat increases unhealthy cholesterol, LDL, and lowers the good kind, HDL.
Fat-free and low-fat dairy found in yogurt, milk, and cheese is within the guidelines, but how much you eat depends on your age.
- Note: Fat is used by the body to lubricate joints, regulate body temperature, and in women, to protect their reproductive organs from damage. When manufacturers reduce fat, they often replace it with carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains or other starches. Too much fat in the body causes strain on the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver….the result, heart disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a plethora of conditions you want no part of.
7. Cut the Salt!
2,300mg — about a teaspoon — that’s the ceiling to how much you should be eating in your diet, but I recommend to my clients, to keep it as close to 1,300mg as you can. It’s not a lot, especially when many people get much of their sodium from packaged and processed foods. Too much sodium can make your heart work too hard and lead to high blood pressure.
If you’re looking for an alternative, sprinkle allspice on your food, or use other spices like time, turmeric or even use a little potassium.
- Note: Sodium is found in table salt, rock salt, pickling salt, and sea salt; soy sauce contains high levels of sodium. Sodium is essential to human health, but too much sodium is poisonous. Sodium poisoning can cause seizures, coma, and death.
8. American, Mediterranean or Vegetarian
This version of the guidelines is supposed to be more user-friendly. It models 3 different types of diets at the 2,000-calorie level: the American diet, Mediterranean diet and vegetarian diet. Mix-and-match them, alternate them, but there are many ideas as to what you should have for each…it’s more approachable this year.