Americans are killing themselves with very bad food choices, a panel of experts said Thursday.
New dietary guidelines for Americans should aim to get people to eat more vegetables, less fat and salt and to exercise more, the panel says. And they said people shouldn’t worry about cholesterol itself, which means an occasional egg should be all right.
The U.S. government issues new dietary guidelines every five years and enlists an independent panel of experts to advise on what they should be. The public gets 45 days to weigh in and then Health and Human Services Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture use the report as the basis for new guidelines to be issued by the end of the year.
For the most part, the new recommendations “reaffirm” the 2010 guidelines, the committee says in its 570-plus page report. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the U.S. diet. Some key differences are easing up the restrictions on cholesterol-rich foods and, for the first time, advising children and adolescents to avoid consumption of high-caffeine energy drinks.
The panel also urges the federal government to do more to get Americans to actually follow the recommendations.
“On average, the U.S. diet is low in vegetables, fruit and whole grains and too high in calories, saturated fat, sodium, refined grains and added sugars,” the report reads.
And these bad eating habits are making us sick.
“About half of all Americans—117 million individuals — have one or more preventable chronic diseases that relate to poor dietary patterns and physical inactivity, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and diet-related cancers,” the report says. “More than two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children and youth are overweight or obese.”
None of this should come as news, but despite sustained and dedicated education campaigns, Americans still eat too much white flour and sugar, drink too many sugary soft drinks and eat too much animal fat.
“These devastating health problems have persisted for decades, strained U.S. health care costs, and focused the attention of our health care system on disease treatment rather than prevention. They call for bold action and sound, innovative solutions,” the report reads.
The Agriculture and Health and Human Services Departments will take those recommendations into account in writing final 2015 dietary guidelines by the end of the year. The guidelines affect nutritional patterns throughout the country — from federally subsidized school lunches to food package labels to your doctor’s advice.
The government will also take comments on the advice before distilling it — and possibly changing it — into final guidelines for consumers.
Even with the changes, the report sticks to the basic message of the previous guidelines: Eat more fruits and vegetables and whole grains; eat less saturated fats, salt and sugar.
Eggs Are Okay
The report says dietary cholesterol now is “not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” This follows increasing medical research showing the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream is more complicated than once thought.
The committee says available evidence “shows no appreciable relationship” between heart disease and how much dietary cholesterol you eat, but it still recommends eating less saturated fat. As in previous years, the report advises limiting saturated fats to 10 percent of total calories.
The panel doesn’t give a specific recommendation for how much cholesterol — or eggs — a person may eat.
Watch The Added Sugar
Added sugars should be around 200 calories a day — about the amount in one 16-ounce sugary drink, says the advisory committee, which is made up of doctors and nutritionists.
The recommendation is part of a larger push in recent years to help consumers isolate added sugars from naturally occurring ones like those in fruit and milk. Added sugars generally add empty calories to the diet.
Americans now get about 13 percent of their calories from added sugar, or 268 calories a day, the committee says. Older children, adolescents and young adults generally take in more.
Sugary drinks should be replaced with water instead of those with low-calorie sweeteners; there’s not enough evidence those drinks can help with weight loss, the committee advises.
A Softer Approach To Salt
Sodium adds up quickly — a turkey sandwich and a cup of soup, for example, can average about 2,200 milligrams. That’s just under the committee’s recommendation of 2,300 milligrams a day for all people, even those most at risk for heart disease.
The 2010 dietary guidelines had recommended those at risk for heart disease limit sodium to 1,500 milligrams. The new report said lowering to that amount can still be helpful for some. But the new advice follows a 2013 report by the Institute of Medicine that said there is no good evidence that eating less than 2,300 milligrams a day of sodium offers benefits.
With the average American eating more than 3,400 milligrams daily, the panel recommends at least trying to reduce sodium intake by 1,000 milligrams a day if the goals are unattainable.
The new recommendation “puts the focus where it should be,” the panel said. In other words: Get sodium intake down, and fine-tune the numbers as more evidence comes in.
A Hearty Endorsement For Coffee
The report looks at caffeine for the first time, and says coffee is OK — even good for you. The panel says there is strong evidence that 3 to 5 cups a day can be part of a healthy diet, and there’s consistent evidence that it’s even associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The advice comes with some caveats — don’t add calories with cream, milk and added sugars. The report also advises against large-size energy drinks that are popular in the marketplace, and it recommends pregnant women limit caffeine to two cups of coffee a day.
Unlike energy drinks, coffee contains phytochemicals — natural plant products that have been increasingly shown to benefit health.
Eat A Plant-Based Diet
The panel recommends eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. A plant-based diet is “more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact” than the current U.S. diet, which is high in meat.
The report stops short of telling people not to eat meat, saying “no food groups need to be eliminated completely to improve sustainability outcomes.” Overall, the panel advises a diet lower in red and processed meat, and in a footnote says lean meats can be part of a healthy diet.
The report also notes that plant-based diets are more sustainable and can help to ensure that we all have enough food in the future.
“A diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, diewhole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health-promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet,” the report says.