Ask Mickey: What You Need to Know About the New Dietary Guidelines

I see from the news that the government’s new dietary guidelines are out. What’s different? Anything I should change?

Every five years, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issues new Dietary Guidelines for Americans. After much anticipation, the 2015-2020 DGA have just been released, in time for New Year’s resolutions — and the biggest time of year for the diet and fitness industry. The guidelines are designed to help Americans make food choices and set eating patterns to achieve well-being, including a healthy weight. You won’t find crash diets, juice cleanses, or elimination of entire food groups.

This year, there is a shift from previous editions, with less emphasis on specific foods or nutrients and more focus on healthy-eating patterns. Healthy eating isn’t about one food or one meal, it’s about the quality of your entire diet. (Something Bon Appétit Management Company has been saying for years!) The USDA experts describe healthy eating patterns as diets that include a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains at least half of the time, a variety of protein foods (plant protein, fish, and lean meats), oils, and low-fat dairy, but also limit foods or beverages that contain added sugars, salt, or saturated and trans fats (translation: red and processed meats, sugary beverages, and heavily processed foods).

When reviewed with a critical eye; however, it becomes clear that the guidelines remain heavily influenced by the food industry. …Instead of asking Americans to cut back on red and processed meats; sugary foods and beverages; and processed foods, they recommend limiting saturated fat, sugar, and sodium.

These recommendations align nicely with many of Bon Appétit’s own wellness commitments and how we prepare food in our kitchens. There is a shift back to whole foods, with a trend toward reducing animal products and increasing plant foods in our diets. Importantly, there is no one-size-fits-all diet, as the USDA experts point out. Whether you prefer to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, a Mediterranean-style diet (where meat rarely appears as center of the plate), or a healthy American-style diet, you can achieve health and wellness. Staying within your calorie limit is still necessary for weight management, but it is equally important to fuel your body with nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains.

Now, the specifics on what’s new. This edition of the guidelines has caught up to the science and current recommendations from other health organizations with some more specific recommendations as well. New this year, they state that Americans should limit added sugars in their diet to less than 10 percent of total calories. For those following a 2,000-calorie diet, this means consuming less than 12 teaspoons of sugar — which is the amount contained in about one 12-ounce can of soda.

The previous guideline to limit cholesterol to 300 milligrams per day has been dropped. This is based on the research that consuming saturated fat increases our risk for high cholesterol and heart disease more than does dietary cholesterol, the previous villain. This was a big win for the egg industry, since one egg contains 200 milligrams of cholesterol. However, take this news with caution – the USDA does still warn that dietary cholesterol should still be limited as much as possible. Bottom line: eat shellfish and eggs, both of which offer many positive nutrients, but as with everything, moderation is key. Most other foods that contain significant amounts of cholesterol also contain saturated fat (such as red meat).

The guidelines communicate many of the common threads seen throughout the majority of the research on food, nutrition, and dietary patterns. When reviewed with a critical eye; however, it becomes clear that they remain heavily influenced by the food industry. While the guidelines recommend beneficial foods by name, when it comes to which foods to limit, they switch to nutrients rather than foods. Instead of asking Americans to cut back on red and processed meats; sugary foods and beverages; and processed foods, they recommend limiting saturated fat, sugar, and sodium.

What didn’t make the guidelines this time around? The recommendation to consider the environment when choosing what to eat, and to eat more plants and fewer animal products. Another win for the food industry.

For those looking for a healthier start to 2016, here are the key takeaways: eat more plants, limit red and processed meats, and cut out sugary foods and beverages.  Most importantly, take a look at your overall diet and make improvements to your pattern of eating. The latest superfood — whether kale, matcha, or hemp seeds — will not transform your health. But a well-balanced diet that includes an occasional indulgence just might.


12-3790_bamco_askmickey_web-157x300About Ask Mickey: At Bon Appétit, we know there’s a lot on your plate that you worry about. Making good food choices helps you avoid unwanted pounds, work or study (and sleep!) better, and form long-lasting healthy eating habits. In the Ask Mickey column, Bon Appétit Management Company registered dietitian nutritionists offer tips on “chewing the right thing” and answer your nutrition questions. (Mickey, aka Michelina, is a particular feisty Italian grandmother who continues to inspire us.) Email your questions and feedback to [email protected].