Should You Follow the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines?

Posted On Jan 20, 2016 By Erin Kuh, MBA, RD

Should You Follow the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines?

Every five years the government revises the Dietary Guidelines, which are comprised of general nutrition recommendations, intakes, and healthy eating patterns to help steer the public and health professionals in the right eating direction. The guidelines have been translated into the Food Guide Pyramid and MyPlate in past years and are used as the criteria for school food programs. Although as a dietitian many of our recommendations are based on these guidelines, I find myself in constant conflict between what is best for a client and what the government says I should be telling them. Not to mention how it's possible that school meals are considered healthy!

Past guidelines have been challenging to translate into what should actually go on your plate due to recommendations being based on a 2,000 calories per day diet (more than what many people need), and serving sizes not being consistent with serving sizes on food labels. And then of course, there are recommendations that are very questionable and don't promote optimal health: Fruit juice counting as a fruit serving, potatoes being counted as a vegetable, and "at least half of grains should be whole grains." Why not all whole grains?

There's much political controversy around the guidelines, how they are decided upon, and what research is deemed relevant. Money, the powerful food industry, and lobbyists are usually at odds against sound science.

So with the release of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines on January 7th, how do they stack up against the 2010 Guidelines? More importantly, what should you focus on?

Not a whole lot was changed from previous guidelines, but here are a few key points to focus on that I can stand behind:

  1. Limit added sugars to less than 10% of calories per day.
  2. The addition of Other Healthy Eating Patterns, including the Mediterranean style of eating and Vegetarian Guidelines, give people more options and flexibility to meet their unique nutritional needs.
  3. No daily intake recommendation for cholesterol. Past guidelines set a limit of 300mg/day but now it's acknowledged that dietary cholesterol has little to no impact on blood cholesterol and a limit cannot be determined at this time.
  4. Focus on overall healthy eating patterns rather than individual food groups or nutrients. This is my favorite recommendation because I commonly get asked, "Should I be eating X?", or "Should I add Y to my diet?" The individual components or a single food item are not as important as what you eat over the course of a week.

While these Guidelines have improved, and I have faith they will continue to improve, they are still not reflective of what a truly optimal diet is. A few of their shortcomings include the emphasis on dairy and grain products, the gap between recommended serving sizes and what's on food labels, and the low protein recommendations. If school lunches can still meet the criteria for being a balanced meal with hamburgers, French fries, and strawberry milk, the Dietary Guidelines obviously have a long way to go.

For more information, read the complete 2015 Dietary Guidelines.

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