4 Things to Know About the New Federal Dietary Guidelines

4 Things to Know About the New Federal Dietary Guidelines

Dietary guidelines for 2015-2020 focus on eating a varied diet with less added sugar.

The federal government has released its new dietary guidelines, the official recommendations that influence everything from what goes into school lunches to suggestions on the best way to feed your family.

This time, they’re focusing less on individual foods and more on eating a varied, well-balanced diet overall.

Here are four things you need to know.
1. Add more variety.

Eating a wide range of nutrient-dense food helps ensure that you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy. As you can probably guess, that means getting plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, fat-free or low-fat dairy and healthy oils.

2. Cut back on calories from added sugars and saturated fat.
Both added sugars and saturated fat have been linked to heart disease and other serious chronic conditions. To combat this, the new guidelines recommend limiting added sugar and saturated fat to 10% each of your total daily calories.

If you’re already eating smart, this isn’t hard to do, says food and nutrition expert, Janis Jibrin, MS, RD.

“If the bulk of your diet is comprised of fruits, vegetables, and moderate portions of nuts, olive oil, healthier proteins such as seafood and tofu and healthier starches such as whole grains, legumes and sweet potatoes, your added sugar and saturated fat levels will automatically be very low. And if that’s your diet, you can get away with about 150 to 200 calories of indulgence or junk.”

Currently, it can be hard to tell how many calories in a food come from added sugar, but the Food and Drug Administration likely will update nutrition labels to make that easier. These conversions can help, too:

Daily Calories     10% Added Sugar in Grams     in Teaspoons     in Calories
     1500                                 38                                     9                    150
     1800                                 45                                    11                   180
     2000                                 50                                   12.5                 200

3. Guys, eat less meat.
One surprise coming out of the new guidelines: Men and teenaged boys tend to eat much more protein from meat and eggs than they need. To cut back, the government suggests reducing meat and poultry and eating more fruits and veggies. 

This is actually good rule of thumb for all of us, since the consumption of red meat has been linked to a slew of chronic health conditions.

“Some—but not all—studies show that the more red and processed meat you eat, the higher your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancers,” says Jibrin. “But I wished the guidelines had gone further…because they leave people with the vague idea that too much red meat is bad without saying how much is too much.”

Current recommendations for meat, eggs and poultry are 26 ounces per week for a 2,000-calorie diet, which is still eight to nine 3-ounce portions. Just keep in mind that three ounces is about the size of your palm. 

"And that doesn't mean those 26 ounces should be meat, eggs or poultry. You can sub in seafood, tofu or other plant protein." In fact, notes Jibrin, these guidelines recommend getting eight ounces of seafood weekly.

4. Don’t be confused about cholesterol.
The new guidelines don’t include the previous recommendation to limit cholesterol to 300mg/day—but that doesn’t mean you get to load up on fries and cheese dip. Foods that are high in cholesterol are usually full of saturated fat, too. Cut way back on the fatty foods, specifically high fat animal proteins, and you won't have to worry about your cholesterol. 

Medically reviewed in October 2019.

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