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Posted: Monday, March 14, 2016

Exploring the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

As you’re probably aware, the U.S. government periodically releases health and dietary information advisories for Americans. You likely know this because some news organization or website did a story about it and maybe someone you follow on social media reacted to it in either a positive or negative way. A good number of us either never hear about these recommendations or simply choose to ignore them when we do hear about them. Since your tax dollars almost certainly helped fund the research, choosing to ignore the findings is akin to going to a doctor, then deciding not to do what he or she says. Granted, sometimes these types of recommendations send mixed messages, but it’s still up to you to decide whether to adhere to them or go on about the business of eating as you see fit, and let’s face it, sometimes the latter is easier and preferable. But, at least looking into these advisories can be worthwhile, if only so you can arm yourself with the information, and then make your own choices about what to do with it.

One such study – the Dietary Guidelines for Americans – recently was published for the first time since 2010 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says these most-recent guidelines offer some new recommendations for the American diet. “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans have been published every five years since 1980,” she explained. “They’re intended to provide advice for people ages 2 and up about how good nutritional habits can promote health and reduce risks for major chronic diseases. They also serve as the basis for federal food and nutrition education programs. They don’t, however, come without controversy. Many are concerned about the politics involved from the food and beverage industries, particularly when it comes to sugar. Large soda companies, for instance, don’t want the guidelines to recommend cutting out sugar and sugary sodas for obvious reasons. The meat industry, too, isn’t fond of recommendations that people reduce their meat consumption,” she explained. “Overall, however, there seem to be some positive changes in the 2015 guidelines,” she added.

Tillman says the recommendations essentially can be broken down into five key points. “First, the guidelines recommend following a healthy eating pattern throughout your entire life,” she said. “All food and beverage choices matter, and the guidelines recommend choosing an appropriate calorie level that helps you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support adequate nutrient levels, and reduce your risk for chronic diseases. Secondly, the guidelines suggest focusing on variety, amount and nutrient density. This means eating a variety of foods that contain a high density of nutrients in all food groups. Next, and perhaps most importantly, this year, the guidelines recommend limiting your calorie intake from added sugars and saturated fats, and reducing your sodium intake. Specifically, the new recommendation for sugar is to ‘limit added sugars to less than 10 percent of your total calorie intake each day.’ Fourth, the guidelines suggest shifting your diet to healthier food and drink choices overall, and recommend looking for ways to actively help yourself accomplish and maintain this shift,” she said. “Finally, the guidelines recommend supporting healthy eating patterns for everyone, and suggest helping everyone in your family, work environment or school focus on a healthy diet, too,” Tillman added.

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