These guidelines were released in January, 2016 and have significant updates for the consumer based on good science. However, there are some areas where the good science didn’t translate to the updates. I’ve read the guidelines and a couple of reviews, including one by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in collaboration with Metagenics and the Joslin Diabetes Center.
Here is a summary of some of the areas that fell short:
- Healthy Fats – The Dietary Guidelines recommend reducing fat consumption by consuming fat-free and low-fat dairy products and limiting saturated and trans fats. They also indicated that healthy diets include oils. Including healthy vegetable oils, like olive oil and flax seed oil, is a step in the right direction. These are rich sources of essential fatty acids that are lacking in the American diet. Other oils like sesame seed oil have anti-inflammatory properties and coconut oil is well tolerated by most of the public. Although they do not contain any of the omega fatty acids, they are easily digested and utilized by the body. Trans fats have no redeeming value but research has demonstrated that saturated fat is not necessarily unhealthy. The recommendations should provide information on the proper use of healthy fats, like in cooking. The guidelines should differentiate between a diet that is low in total fat intake versus taking a whole food and reducing its fat content. It is no longer a whole food and should be avoided. Besides, low-fat diets are no more effective for weight loss or maintaining health than any other diet.
- Added sugar – The Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting added sugar to no more than 10% of total calories. Even if a person is not overweight, obese, or suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes, long-term intake of added sugars, like high fructose corn syrup, lead to the development of metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes I am pleased that sugar has been identified as a major factor in chronic disease and that the USDA recommends reducing added sugar. However, in future guidelines they need to go further and recommend diets with no added sugar, limiting sugar consumption to 5% of total caloric intake.
- Grains and Carbohydrates – The Dietary Guidelines recommend that 50% of grains consumed be whole grains. While whole grains can be an important component of a healthy diet, these recommendations remain too supportive of grains and carbohydrates. The nutritional valve of grains beyond empty calories is very limited. It is further reduced by refining these starchy products. Wheat, rice and potatoes have a high glycemic index and should represent less than 25% of caloric intake, even in their whole state.
The Bottom Line - Maintain a healthy weight
Almost 70% of American adults are overweight or obese. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines represent progress toward healthier eating in America. Many nutritionists, myself included, believe that the epidemic status of obesity in the United States warrants increased attention to achieving and maintaining healthy weight.