Did you know that every five years the federal government, along with input from a committee of health and policy experts, puts out updated nutrition guidelines for the nation? Right now, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are in the final stages of being released. The Dietary Guidelines provide evidenced-based nutrition recommendations for individuals two years and older to make healthy choices about food and drink every day. Unlike fad diets that are all about short-term food restriction, these guidelines focus on informing the overall eating patterns of Americans, building upon the previous five years of scientific research.
Just last month an 835-page report by the 20-person expert advisory committee was published laying the foundation for these new guidelines. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services will use this report to develop the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to be released by the end of the year.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans have always evoked some controversy surrounding the focus on what’s needed for Americans to achieve better health through food and nutrition. This time around there were requests to extend the committee’s deadline due to time constraints posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and to be able to include a wider range of research. However, the report has been published and here are some of the main areas that are different than what we’ve seen in the past:
No solid evidence on meal frequency and timing.
While intermittent fasting and eating five small meals a day have grown in popularity as alternatives to the traditional three meals per day, there is not enough science to recommend one pattern over others. At the same time, it does appear that diet quality is better in those who eat three times a day compared to just two times. Also, late-night eating is often associated with poorer food choices.
Moderate alcohol intake for men gets downsized.
Previous versions of the Dietary Guidelines defined moderate alcohol intake as one drink per day for women and one to two drinks per day for men. This latest report reduces the recommendation to just one drink per day for both men and women. Plus, the report fails to mention any potential benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, which have been alluded to in past guidelines.
Infant feeding and the role of reducing food allergies later in life.
Landmark food allergy studies published over the past decade or so have led to a significant change in the understanding of how to reduce the risk of food allergies. It is likely that the role of early introduction of peanuts and eggs during the first year of life in reducing food allergies will now be included in the new Dietary Guidelines.
We should be eating even less sugar than we thought.
While the 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommended keeping daily added sugar intake to no more than 10 percent of calories, the newest recommendations support reducing daily sugar limits to under 7 percent. Considering most Americans get about 13 percent of their calories from added sugars from items like sugar-sweetened drinks, breakfast cereal and candy, we can benefit by cutting this sugar intake in half. The new inclusion of the Added Sugars line on the Nutrition Facts Food Label can help us choose foods with less added sugar.
Connecting food choices with environmental health.
While the primary focus of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is on improving eating patterns for better health outcomes, the report’s authors would like to see environmental sustainability included in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Public comments called for the evaluation of the social and ecological effects of dietary recommendations. Ultimately, food manufacturing and production has an environmental impact that cannot be separated from nutrition advice. Only time will tell if sustainability will be included in the highly anticipated Dietary Guidelines.
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at RD@halfacup.com.