The 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines have been released and the reviews are mixed. The purpose of these guidelines is to help guide Americans to better eating habits. The document is very involved, much too long for the average American to read in full in their spare time. We’re here to simplify things.
This table sums up the current state of the American diet, but it does need a bit of explaining. See an explanation of the recommended guidelines and the thoughts of our nutrition team below.
Vegetables and Fruits: For most individuals, following a healthy eating pattern would include an increase in total vegetable intake from all vegetable subgroups, in nutrient-dense forms, and an increase in the variety of different vegetables consumed over time. To help support healthy eating patterns, most individuals in the United States would benefit from increasing their intake of fruits, mostly whole fruits, in nutrient-dense forms. The general consensus is that Americans are not consuming enough fruits and veggies. In fact, most of the vegetables accounted for here were potatoes, which are hardly a vegetable at all. They want to see an increase overall but gave no goal number of servings. We agree. Plan to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at your main meals, and incorporate more with mid-day snacks.
Grains: Recommended daily intake of whole grains is to be at least half of total grain consumption, and the limit for refined grains is to be no more than half of total grain consumption. The wording is confusing, but the focus is on changing processed refined grains to whole grains. We will have to disagree. Yes, if you are going to eat grains, whole grains are better. If you are following a “Paleoesque™” meal pattern, the basis of our practice, grains are not included at all. The number one reason (among several) is that grains contain gluten. There are varying degrees of gluten sensitivity, the least of which causes inflammation throughout the body, which is an underlying cause of modern disease.
Dairy: Most individuals in the United States would benefit by increasing dairy intake in fat-free or low-fat forms, whether from milk (including lactose-free milk), yogurt, and cheese or from fortified soy beverages (soymilk). We disagree again. The“Paleoesque™” meal pattern also eliminates dairy, as it also a major cause of inflammation in the body. If the US is concerned about calcium intake, there are other non-dairy foods that will help meet your calcium goal. Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach are great sources of calcium, and dairy alternative products like calcium-fortified almond milk are also available. For a larger list, click here.
Protein: Shifting to nutrient-dense options, including lean and lower sodium options, will improve the nutritional quality of protein food choices and support healthy eating patterns. The US guidelines supports lean meats and eggs as the best source of protein, and that we need to avoid protein powders and supplements. These products usually contain unnecessary ingredients and artificial sweeteners. We agree, why consume these if you can simply eat meat, fish or eggs to get your protein?
Oils: To move the intake of oils to recommended levels, individuals should use oils rather than solid fats in food preparation where possible. Strategies to shift intake include using vegetable oil in place of solid fats (butter, stick margarine, shortening, lard, coconut oil). US Guidelines say to stay away from fats and oils that are solid at room temperature, like butter and lard, reason being they contain high amounts of saturated fat. Saturated fat has long been blamed for weight gain and buildup of plaque in arteries, although recent evidence is backing down on these claims. However, they also lump coconut oil in this category, as it is solid at room temp, but it is actually one of the better oils for you. It is high in saturated fat, but it contains medium chain triglycerides, which are more easily digested and used for energy rather than stored as fat like most other saturated fats. We disagree with this recommendation because many of the processed vegetable oils are inflammatory and higher in less healthy fats, we recommend sticking to mainly olive oil and coconut oil for your healthy oils.
Added sugar: Shift to reduce added sugars consumption to less than 10 percent of calories per day. Yes, we absolutely agree most people need to decrease your sugar intake. To get an idea of how much this recommendation is, 10% of a 2000 calorie diet is 200 calories, or 25 grams, or 12.5 teaspoonfuls. That’s about one serving of ice cream, and your can of soda breaks the bank at 39 grams (see what else stacks up here). Might as well cut both out!
Saturated fat: Individuals should aim to shift food choices from those high in saturated fats to those high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. We agree. Most saturated fat in the American diet comes from dairy and mixed dishes containing dairy (pizza, casseroles, etc.). This one’s simple. Cut out dairy and significantly reduce your intake of saturated fat.
Sodium: Shift food choices to reduce sodium intake. Because sodium is found in so many foods, careful choices are needed in all food groups to reduce intake. Most excess sodium in the diet comes from mixed dishes (pizza, casseroles, etc.) and from processed foods. We agree since these foods aren’t giving much other added nutritional value.
The guidelines are a little more vague than they have been in the past, and perhaps this is a good thing. The guidelines no longer stress eating a certain number of servings 0f any one food group. Less fixation on numbers and more focus on quality of foods being consumed is more important.