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What You Need to Know About the USDA’s New Dietary Guidelines

Earlier this year, the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans was released by the USDA, generating plenty of controversy in the nutrition community.

Enjoy these crazy quotes from previous dietary guidelines!

We at Clean Eating thought it would be fun (and interesting) to get a couple of different opinions about the new guidelines, so we asked two experts to weigh in: CE’s own West Coast Nutrition Editor Jonny Bowden and Registered Dietitian Cassie Bjork, founder and CEO of Healthy Simple Life. Neither read the other’s piece before submitting their own.

He Said…

By Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS
Author of Smart Fat: Eat More Fat. Lose More Weight. Get Healthy Now.

The first version of the Dietary Guidelines was actually called the Dietary Goals When it came out in 1977, a time when the world was terrified of fat and everyone believed that cholesterol caused heart disease. Unfortunately, that belief system has its DNA all over the modern guidelines.

No wonder the guidelines continue to get it wrong when it comes to fat.

The current guidelines recommend that we limit milligrams from sodium and calories from added sugars and saturated fats, lumping these three substances together as if they’re all equally bad. They’re not. Added sugars are killing us, and saturated fats just got a clean bill of health in two major peer-reviewed studies published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the Annals of Internal Medicine. What’s more, what makes a fat “bad” has nothing to do with whether or not it’s saturated, but whether or not it’s toxic.

The USDA continues to recommend that we switch from saturated to polyunsaturated fats like vegetable oils, despite the fact that the overconsumption of these omega-6-rich oils contributes mightily to inflammation, and despite the fact that a review of the saturated-fat research published in the journal Nutrition stated that advice like this is just not backed up by science.

See alsoThe Best Cooking Oils for Healthy Fat. 

And while I recognize that the whole world isn’t gluten-sensitive or gluten-intolerant, and that some people may indeed be able to consume grains with nary a problem, I still think the recommendation that grains should make up about one-quarter of your diet is ridiculous.

It’s important to adjust your expectations when it comes to the Dietary Guidelines. It’s hardly objective. Remember, from the time the USDA was born back in 1862, it has had two mandates. One is to provide excellent information about food and diet to the American people.

But the other, lesser-known mandate is to protect, support and develop markets for the US agricultural industry.

That’s why it’s hard to imagine that the guidelines will ever tell us to eat less of the main food crops – corn, wheat, soy and sugar – which are the lifeblood of US agriculture. Remember, the guidelines affect the bottom line of many industries – dairy, meat and Big Food. For that reason, millions and millions of dollars is spent in Washington lobbying for recommendations – and language – that will protect bottom lines. (The guidelines will never say, “Don’t drink soda!” Instead, you’ll hear banal, inoffensive language like, “Limit calories from added sugars,” or “Shift to healthier patterns,” which offends – and influences – no one.)

In the US right now, we’re in the middle of a hard-fought battle for the presidency. A huge issue (for both sides) is the influence of money on politics – via corporations, billionaire donors or entire industries.

Maybe it’s time to recognize that that kind of influence doesn’t stop with politics.

It’s very much alive and well and available for all to see right there in the Dietary Guidelines. Take it with a much-needed grain of salt.

Read more of Dr. Jonny’s columns here! 

She said…

By Cassie Bjork, RD, LD
CEO and Lead Dietitian Coach of Healthy Simple Life

This year’s Dietary Guidelines has taken a giant step in the right direction. While the guidelines aren’t perfect, there are some big changes that challenge what have been nutrition standards for far too long – and this is great news.

One of the changes I’m most excited about is the removal of the daily recommended limit on cholesterol. While it still says, “Eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible,” the long-standing limit has been dropped.

For decades now, cholesterol has been demonized as one of the main causes of heart disease when, in actuality, it’s essential for brain health, hormone production, healthy cell membranes and the production of vitamin D. It should be seen as a hero, not a villain. I can only hope that with the next round of guidelines, all language painting cholesterol in a negative light will be removed along with suggestions to avoid saturated fat.

Another concrete change I’m excited to see is the recommendation to decrease added sugar, which calls for less than 10% of your daily calories to be consumed from added sugar. They’ve really made it a point to call attention to how unhealthy processed foods are, which is where a lot of the added sugar in the American diet is found. Way to go, government guidelines!

I love that the new guidelines focus on nutrient density as opposed to just quantity of calories. Stepping away from the “calories in, calories out” mindset for health and weight is something that will continue to take time, and as the science continues to back food quality over quantity, I’m optimistic we’ll get there. Baby steps are better than none when it comes to making change.

Last but not least, the guidelines address coffee for the first time. They recommend moderate coffee consumption as part of a healthy diet, which is three to five 8-ounce cups a day, and I’m all for supporting a daily cup of joe!

I’m thrilled that the recommendations are catching up with the science. To someday see full-fat dairy recommended instead of low-fat is this dietitian’s dream, but for the time being, this set of guidelines is definitely a step in the right direction.

Added sugars are killing us, and saturated fats just got a clean bill of health in two major peer-reviewed studies published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the Annals of Internal Medicine.