New Dietary Guidelines Focus on Eating Patterns vs. Food Groups

The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and of Agriculture (USDA) released their long-awaited 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines on Jan. 7. These guidelines, which contain nutritional and dietary information for the general public based on the latest scientific evidence, are required every five years under the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act.

The new Dietary Guidelines move away from previous iterations which focused primarily on individual dietary components such as food groups and nutrients and instead focus on eating patterns and their food and nutrient characteristics. “These Guidelines … embody the idea that a healthy eating pattern is not a rigid prescription, but rather, an adaptable framework in which individuals can enjoy foods that meet their personal, cultural, and traditional preferences and fit within their budget,” write the guideline authors in the Executive Summary.

Specifically the guidelines contain five key recommendations: following a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan; focusing on variety, nutrient density and amount; limiting calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reducing sodium; shifting to healthier food and beverage choices; and supporting health eating patterns for all. Following these guidelines, for a 2,000 calorie diet, people should consume less than 2,300 mg per day of sodium and less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars, and saturated fats.

One clear difference from the previous guidelines is the removal of the recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol consumption to 300 mg per day. However, the USDA and HHS note that “this change does not suggest that dietary cholesterol is no longer important to consider when building healthy eating patterns.” The guidelines continue to emphasize that lowering the amount of dietary cholesterol in healthy eating patterns reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity.

“It is more important than ever that Americans have a source of clear science-based information about diet,” said ACC President Kim Allan Williams Sr., MD, FACC. “The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans makes a clear step forward in providing Americans with science-based guidelines. Hopefully, Americans will pay attention to this guidance, including limits on sugar intake, and incorporate it into their diets by focusing on consuming unprocessed foods, including fruits, vegetables and grains, and also replacing foods with cholesterol and saturated fats with foods with healthier monounsaturated fats like olive oil and nuts … Following the recommendations in the 2015 Guidelines to lower intake of cholesterol, fat and sugar, will help improve the health of the American population.”

According to a viewpoint by Karen B. DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc; Richard Olson, MD, MPH; and Kellie O. Casavale, PhD, RD, of HHS, published Jan. 7 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Everyone has a role in supporting healthy eating patterns. Concerted efforts among health care professionals, communities, businesses and industries, organizations, governments, and other segments of society are important to support individuals and families in making dietary and physical activity choices that align with the Dietary Guidelines and work for them.” They explain that health care professionals can help individuals identify how they can modify and improve their dietary patterns and intake to align with the Dietary Guidelines, and that educational materials for both professionals and consumers will be available in 2016. 

Clinical Topics: Diabetes and Cardiometabolic Disease, Dyslipidemia, Prevention, Lipid Metabolism, Nonstatins, Diet

Keywords: Agriculture, Carbohydrates, Cardiovascular Diseases, Cholesterol, Dietary, Diet, Energy Intake, Nutrition Policy, Obesity, Sodium, United States Department of Agriculture

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