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The recommendations, designed to help Americans avoid chronic disease and maintain a healthy weight, advise limiting added sugars to 10 percent of daily calories.
For a woman eating 2,000 calories a day, that would translate into 200 calories of added sugar – or about the same amount as a can of regular soda.
Added sugars are sugars and syrups added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. This does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits.
The major food and beverage sources of added sugars for Americans are soft drinks, energy drinks and sports drinks.
The World Health Organization and other groups have issued similar advice, citing evidence that eating less added sugar could reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.
Focus on eating patterns
Also, for the first time, the guidelines advise Americans to focus less on individual nutrients such as fat or protein and to think more broadly about their overall eating habits – to develop “healthy eating patterns.”
A healthy eating pattern, the recommendations say, means
- Lots of unprocessed fruits and vegetables.
- At least half of grains consumed should be whole-grain.
- Fats should be liquid – in the form of oil.
- Dairy should be fat-free or low-fat.
- Protein should come from a wide variety of nutrient-dense, lean and low-sodium sources, including seafood.
- Most people should consume less than 2,300 milligrams of salt every day.
- Saturated fats should be limited to less than 10 percent of calories each day. Trans fats also should be limited.
- Alcohol consumption should be moderate — one drink per day for women and two for men.
Longstanding limits on dietary cholesterol were removed, reflecting new scientific research on the role of genetics. But the guidelines recommend eating as little cholesterol as possible because cholesterol often goes hand-in-hand with saturated fat.
Not specific enough
Registered dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, says that the recommendations on eating patterns are a good start, but are not specific enough.
“I like the approach for shifting unhealthy choices to healthier, more nutrient-dense options, but I feel this concept, though well-intended, is too broad and needs to be defined further,” Ms. Kirkpatrick says.
People need specific advice, such as replacing refined, white bread with 100 percent whole-grain bread, Ms. Kirkpatrick says. Or guidance such as what is a healthy, non-sugary beverage choice.
“Consumers may assume this means artificially sweetened,” she says. “We should focus on whole foods all around, even in our drinks. What about recommending water as the drink of choice along with coffee and tea?”
The recommendations for grains – where only half should be whole-grain — also do not go far enough, Ms. Kirkpatrick says.
“We need to focus on eating only 100 percent whole grains,” she says. “White grains have no nutrients of value and studies show that their impact on health is negative.”
And while oils are included in the guidelines, they do not define which are superior to others, she says.
Potential to influence
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans have the potential to influence the diets of millions of Americans. They form the basis of school lunch programs and help shape national food assistance programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
They are jointly issued by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services.
The recommendations are intended for Americans ages 2 and older, including those at increased risk of chronic disease. They were first issued in 1980, and are updated every five years.
Guide to executive health
Read more expert advice from Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD on her blog.