You may have heard that there are updated dietary guidelines, but if you’ve looked at the site it’s a jumbled mess of information and updated nutrition information is coming out all the time so maybe you’re over it. I dived through the site to find out what this means for your diet and you.
While it may seem like there are a lot of changes, most of the recommendations are really similar to what they’ve been for the last 30 years, but with updated supporting evidence for the recommendations. There also are some (kinda) nifty charts that show just how good or bad American’s are at getting various nutrients.
So what are the major changes and what do they mean for you?
Cholesterol: This one is a bit controversial. Until now, it’s been recommended that only about 300 milligrams of cholesterol should be eaten a day, which is roughly the amount in about two eggs. This scared many people away from foods with cholesterol like egg yolks and shellfish.
Earlier this year, an increasing amount of research showed that cholesterol from the diet had little to do with high cholesterol levels in the blood stream. In fact it’s estimated that only about 20 percent of your blood cholesterol levels are from your diet, while the rest of them are made by your liver (because your body does need cholesterol, for things like cell membranes, digestion, and synapses in your brain.) It’s important to note though that if you have high cholesterol or a family history of high cholesterol, that 20 percent extra dietary cholesterol may not be so great for you, so if this is a concern for you, talk to your doctor before downing three eggs a day.
The confusing part of this is? The new recommendations are still saying to limit foods high in cholesterol. Why? Typically the same foods that have cholesterol are also foods that are high in saturated fat (think butter and meat). BUT it turns out eggs and shellfish do have cholesterol but are not high in saturated fats, so these are being given the green light. Eggs are a great source of protein, and can be a filling portable snack. Try a hard boiled egg this week with a dash of salt and pepper or some mustard. Also try keeping a bag of frozen shrimp around for a quick and easy dinner that’s high in low-fat protein.
Added Sugars: Maybe you’ve heard this buzz phrase lately. Basically this tries to not vilify naturally occurring sugars, so carb haters don’t avoid healthy foods like fruit or even milk (yup, lactose is a sugar.) Added sugars are added by manufacturers for all sorts of reasons, like taste, texture, color and shelf-life. Right now the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, or about 350 calories. Research has shown that diets with reduced amounts of sugars help reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.
You can see where most of these added sugars are coming from below, but about half of them are coming from beverages loaded in sugar, like soda and fruit juice, and a lot of are coming from junk foods like snacks and sweets.
Okay, what’s this mean for you? The new recommendation is for only 10% of daily calories to come from added sugars, so if you’re following a 2000 calorie diet that’s 200 calories of junk allowed per day (hey, that’s not that bad.) And they’re also saying that all these added sugars are junk calories that don’t contribute to any of the nutrients you need in a day. If you want to stay eating an amount of calories to not gain weight and eat all you actually need to eat to live a healthy life, you won’t have room in your diet for more than those 10% fun calories a day. Before you ditch the sugar and go to the fake stuff, fake sugars aren’t necessarily going to help you lose weight as they may trick your body into eating more, craving more sweets, or killing your taste bud’s ability to taste sugar, so try to keep your sugars real and drizzle instead of dump on some honey.
Before you panic, the new recommendations also emphasize slow healthy changes. Setting yourself up on a eating pattern that you absolutely hate means you’ll never follow it long term (or ever), so try some small changes. Maybe get rid of one soda a day, mix seltzer into your fruit juice, or check out the back of labels to find hidden sweeteners. Labels may not always flat out say sugar, so look out for other hidden sugars like corn sweetener, dextrose, corn syrup, fructose, glucose, honey, malt syrup, and maltose.
Food patterns: This year the recommendations are trying to emphasize overall healthy eating patterns over specific nutrients. To do this you should include foods from various groups and limit saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars and sodium. These healthy eating patterns are based off of diets that will help reduce the risk of chronic diseases, like heart disease.
One big thing that has been making headlines: the emphasis that males - especially teens and adults - should cut down on the protein. At first this caused a big “Huh? Men should eat less protein?” Well actually, men should still technically eat the same amount of protein that was recommended before BUT they’re way, way, way over their recommended goals. Check it out below. You’ll also notice that many of us are way under our goals for vegetables, fruits, dairy and oils.
So basically? Everyone, but especially guys, should cut down on the steaks and butter and try to add in more fruits and veggies. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer for men, causing one out of four deaths, and is linked to diets high in saturated fats. About ¾ of the population is eating a diet low in fruit, dairy and oils and 90% of American’s aren’t eating enough veggies. You’ve heard all of this before, but this year they’re giving us pretty pictures to show just how naughty most of us have all been.
Again, they’re emphasizing small healthy changes. So try to do things you don’t mind doing starting today, and try to build on them later:
Swap out avocado oil or another healthy oil for butter or lard when you cook
try hummus and carrots over chips and dip
swap out whole grain products for at least half of your grains each day
add in some veggies into one of your go-to dishes
swap out one sugary drink a day for something sans sugar like water, unsweetened iced tea or seltzer
Saturated Fat and Sodium: These recommendations are being emphasized again this year, but are actually the same as previous years. Try to get less than 10% of your calories from saturated fats (which has been the norm since 1990) and less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (no change since 2010.)
So what do you think? Are the recommendations way too confusing? Obvious? What changes are you going to make? Let me know if you have any questions!