New Dietary Guidelines: What you should know

by Marilyn Walls, M.S.

This article was originally published in June 2016

Sugar cubes

The Guidelines recommend only 10 percent of calories be from added sugar.

Every five years the federal government sets guidelines to encourage a healthier America. The current Dietary Guidelines focus on selecting a diversity of nutrient-rich foods rather than on an amount of specific nutrients. Reading the five pillars, one could imagine the title of the report as “Everybody Eat a Rainbow Every Day” with a subtitle of “And Not Too Much Added Sugar.” A kids’ class at PCC could tell you that! A s usual, the government isn’t exactly the leading edge of nutritional thought. These Guidelines, however, are written for a population that drinks too much soda, may be overweight and is at high risk for diabetes. Still, they make good mantras for better eating.

The basics

The Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming an assortment of vegetables, fruits, grains and fat-free or low-fat dairy. While not advising everyone to limit red meat, the Guidelines do encourage getting protein from a variety of sources such as seafood, lean meats, eggs, legumes and seeds. (Teen boys and adult men, however, are advised to reduce overall protein, including meat.) Like previous iterations of the Guidelines, the new version says saturated fats should be no more than 10 percent of calories and that sodium intake should be no more than 2,300 mg (1 teaspoon) daily.

The new Guidelines emphasize balance, portion control and nutritious eating patterns to prevent chronic diseases that often are diet-related. Lowering caloric intake and increasing exercise are encouraged. A remarkable change in the new Guidelines is the focus on “shifting” dietary patterns — rather than advising people to “eat less,” as previous versions of the Guidelines did, the new Guidelines recommend foods to eat instead. For instance, it recommends a “shift from solid fats to oils,” “shift to consume more vegetables,” and “shift to increase variety in protein foods choices.”

This new philosophy of adding healthful foods, which in turn could crowd out less nourishing choices, reflects many nutritionists’ dreams.

Specific changes

What has changed? Eggs are okay again, with the limit on dietary cholesterol removed. The new Guidelines set no limit for total fat intake. Now the entire nutritional value of foods can be considered, which makes room for good fats such as nuts and healthful oils.

The biggest change regards added sugar. The Guidelines recommend only 10 percent of calories be from added sugar. Added sugars do not include innate sugars in fruits, vegetables or dairy, but include sweeteners such as cane sugar and honey added to foods and drinks.

Ten percent of daily calories equates to about 48 grams a day, or about 12 teaspoons, based on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet.

The average added sugar intake in the United States is around 22 teaspoons (88g) a day, according to the Harvard Chan School of Public Health (HSPH). Teenage boys are even worse consumers of added sugar. Other organizations recommend an even lower intake for added sugar. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends only 5 percent of daily calories, which decreases daily intake of added sugar to about 6 teaspoons, or about 24 grams a day. That’s similar to what the American Heart Association suggests.

What would Americans need to give up to lower the amount of added sugar in their diet? HSPH points to sugar-sweetened beverages and breakfast cereals as “the most serious offenders.” A better breakfast with those now-approved eggs would be a good start. Getting kids off sugary drinks would be another positive action.

Whether choosing a 5-percent or 10-percent limit on added sugar, there still is room for a cookie, adding honey to your tea or enjoying a small scone. This follows the direction of the new Dietary Guidelines: Focus on variety, nutrient density and the amount you eat. Make small modifications in your diet because “all food and beverage choices matter.”

What can I eat?

WHO recommends no more than 5 percent of calories (24g) come from added sugar. Here’s a selection of foods at PCC meeting that standard.

From the PCC Bakery:

  • 1 chocolate chip cookie (21g)
  • 1/2 slice chocolate torte (19g)
  • 1 vegan blueberry scone (10g)
  • 1 mini vegan chocolate cupcake (10g)
  • 1 mini almond poppyseed muffin (5g)

Other foods:

  • 1/2 bar Alter Eco Dark Cacao chocolate (15g)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (17g)
  • 6 ounces Wallaby low-fat strawberry yogurt (20g)

Marilyn Walls is a nutrition educator at PCC.

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PCC Board of Trustees report, June 2016

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Reports about the pesticide glyphosate have led a fair number of PCC members and shoppers to ask how they can avoid it in food.

Your co-op community, June 2016

Vitamin Angels Success, Fremont 5K, July 4th Freedom Festival, and more