Eat more plants, less red and processed meat, and don’t worry so much about dietary cholesterol. These are just a few of the recommendations this week from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a group of 14 nationally recognized experts in the fields of nutrition, medicine and public health. Their report, designed to inform the federal government of current scientific evidence regarding diet, nutrition and health, will be considered as two federal government agencies develop the latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, to be released later this year. The committee also recommends easing up on aggressive sodium restrictions and, for the first time, quantifying limits on added sugars; a summary of the advice follows.
1. Ease up on Added Sugars
Added sugars contribute little else but extra calories to our diets; this is why the committee now recommends Americans limit their intake to 10 percent of calories. For someone eating a 1,500-calorie diet, this comes out to about 38 grams of added sugar, or one 12-ounce cola per day. Unfortunately, added sugars have infiltrated our food supply and are now found in everything from packaged bread to salad dressing—so even if you generally avoid sweets and sodas, you’re likely consuming more added sugars than you think. This recommendation coincides with a larger effort to help consumers quantify added sugars in their diet, something that still proves impossible to do simply by looking at the Nutrition Facts label.
2. Enjoy Your Eggs
With the 2010 update, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that cholesterol from foods be limited to 300 milligrams per day with the idea that consuming less dietary cholesterol would lower blood cholesterol. Lately, the medical research to support this recommendation has been weak, at best. As a result, the committee has decided they will forgo a recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol because cholesterol is no longer “a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” This is good news for egg lovers who can once again enjoy an egg or two with breakfast without fear of increasing their cholesterol levels.
3. Pour Yourself Another Cup o’ Joe
For the first time, the Dietary Guidelines Committee is weighing in on caffeine. Evidence suggests that, for adults, intakes of up to 400 milligrams per day (about 3-5 cups of coffee or 6 fluid ounces of espresso) can be part of a healthy diet as long as you don’t load up your morning joe with loads of extra calories from added sugar, milk or cream.
The report does highlight some concerns with high-caffeine energy drinks, which have been linked to “adverse outcomes, such as caffeine toxicity and cardiovascular events”—particularly when these drinks are paired with alcohol. Additionally, the report advises pregnant women to limit caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams, or about two cups of coffee per day.
4. Ease up on Salt Restriction
In 2010, the Dietary Guidelines recommended folks at risk for heart disease, which includes all adults over the age of 50, African American people, and anyone with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, limit sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day. That’s a serious sodium restriction for a heck of a lot of people. This time around, the committee seems to be taking a slightly less aggressive approach regarding sodium, following a 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine that showed little benefit to eating less than 2,300 milligrams per day. As such, the committee is now recommending 2,300 milligrams per day for all people, including the millions of people “at risk” for heart disease. If that is unattainable, the committee has a second recommendation: Reduce intake by 1,000 milligrams—a good place to start for the average American, who consumes more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day.
5. Eat More Plants, Less Red Meat
Recommendations to eat a plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes and seeds is nothing new, but for the first time in history, the committee is considering not just human health but the health of our environment in their recommendations. According to the report, a plant-based diet is “more health-promoting and is associated with less environmental impact.” Overall, the committee recommends eating more plants and less red and processed meats, which are higher in fat and sodium.
Despite these changes, the report maintains many of the previous recommendations from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, including eating more fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and less saturated fats, salt and sugar.
The federal government now has the task of determining how to incorporate the advisory committee’s recommendations into the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which will be released later this year.