The Diet guidelines for Americans (DGA), published by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), provide scientific recommendations on what to eat and drink to promote health, reduce chronic disease risk and meeting nutrient requirements. The guidelines provide a framework for policymakers and nutrition and health professionals to help people consume healthy and nutritionally adequate food. They also help inform diet planning for federal programs, including the National School Lunch Program, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
The CEOs are updated every five years, with each update building on the previous set of guidelines. The 2015-2020 guidelines emphasized healthy eating habits rather than individual foods. The 2020-2025 guidelines were published in December 2020.
Who are – and are not – the dietary guidelines
DGAs are recommendations intended for the general public, including healthy people, overweight and obese people, and people at risk for chronic disease. While almost everyone can benefit from choosing foods that are higher in nutrients and following a healthy diet, those who already have one or more chronic nutrition-related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease, could benefit from a more specific diet. advice. Ask your doctor for recommendations; he or she can refer you to a registered dietitian for more specific advice.
Recommendations for pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and toddlers
For the first time, DGAs include infants and toddlers from birth to 24 months, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women. In particular, the guidelines include a recommendation encouraging the introduction of potential allergens like peanuts, eggs and cow’s milk products to infants at about 6 months. They also recommend that children under the age of 2 refrain from consuming foods containing salt or added sugar. Exposure to these foods early in life can increase the preference for them later in life, potentially contributing to overweight and obesity. (Read this blog post for details on what the new guidelines recommend for infants, children and adolescents.)
Guidelines promote healthy eating habits across preferences and cultures
Most Americans eat a diet that does not meet the DGA, which is insufficient when it comes to vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and low-fat dairy products. Often times, simple swapping can help you eat foods that are higher in nutrients, but relatively low in calories. For example, swap your whole yogurt with added sugar for plain low fat yogurt with fresh fruit; serve whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta; or substitute beans for meat in your favorite chili recipe.
The new DGAs provide a framework for healthy eating that can be adopted across cultures and food preferences. For example, their selection of nutrient-dense vegetables includes chamnamul, a Korean spring green, and yucca, a nutty-flavored tuber native to South America. The DGAs also note that flavoring foods with spices and herbs can help reduce added sugar, salt, and saturated fat.
No change to the added sugar recommendation
HHS and USDA took this Scientific report of the 2020 dietary recommendations advisory committee and public comments taken into consideration when updating guidelines. The report recommended reducing added sugar from 10% of total daily calories to 6%. However, the 2020-2025 guidelines did not make this change, leaving in place their recommendation that “a healthy diet limits added sugars to less than 10% of calories per day.”
Sugary drinks are the main source of added sugar in the American diet. Research has shown that sugary drinks increase the risk of high blood pressure and fatty liver disease. Sugar lacks nutrients and contributes to obesity, which increases the risk of heart disease.
The American Heart Association recommends that women limit added sugar to 6 teaspoons or 100 calories per day and about 9 teaspoons or 150 calories per day for men. The DGA’s recommendation of 10% of a 2000 calorie diet is about 50 grams (12 teaspoons) of sugar per day. The USDA and HHS state that the science on added sugar has not changed and that leaving 10% of calories from added sugar allows for flexibility in the diet.
From my perspective as a dietitian, 50 grams of sugar is too high. I advise my patients to check packaged foods for added sugar, as many packaged foods that appear healthy have high amounts of added sugar. For example, some Greek yogurts can contain up to 9 grams per serving, cold cereals up to 16 grams per serving, and granola bars up to 18 grams per serving.
Guidelines do not change upper alcohol limits for men
The advisory committee also urged tighter alcohol limits for men, suggesting that the upper daily limit be lowered from two drinks per day to one drink per day (equal to the current recommendation for women). However, the new guidelines did not adopt this recommendation.
A standard drink is defined as a 5-ounce serving of wine, a 1.5-ounce serving of distilled alcohol, or a 12-ounce serving of beer. One drink is generally equivalent to around 100 to 150 calories and is low in nutrients.
The current recommendation of up to two drinks per day for men was introduced in 1990 and is outdated. In those who drink, the lowest risk because all-cause mortality is equal to one American standard drink per day for both men and women. In addition, there is no evidence of benefit from two drinks per day. The American Institute for Cancer Research notes that alcohol increases the risk of many types of cancer, even at low levels of consumption. In fact, the American Cancer Society’s 2020 Diet and Physical Activity Guideline for Cancer Prevention concludes that “it’s best not to drink alcohol.”
Despite new evidence, the USDA and HHS have rejected the recommendation to tighten drinking guidelines to one drink per day for men, based on the “lack of preponderance of evidence.”
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