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The New USDA Dietary Guidelines Are Here
The new USDA dietary guidelines have recently been approved. Find out what is healthy and what is unhealthy in the new guidelines below.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) meet every five years to create new dietary guidelines based on recent studies and the most up-to-date scientific studies.
This year, the panel has come under some controversy, because many recent studies have found information that conflicts with dietary guidelines from the past several decades. Learn more about the new dietary guidelines and its helpful or harmful content below.
The panel has a mission of identifying the healthiest diet that will prevent disease and promote overall health. The guidelines act as the base for national nutrition policies, elderly feeding programs, and school lunch programs. In general, any government-operated nutrition or food service will use the USDA dietary guidelines as a base for good health.
In past years, there have been many problems with the diet, as many Americans follow closely to the recommended guidelines yet still have health problems. But are the new changes to the 2015 dietary guidelines enough to keep Americans healthy?
The 2015 guidelines offer generalized health advice for Americans. Of note, the organization recommends the following foods to eat and avoid:
The USDA has removed cholesterol limits from the guidelines, stating that dietary cholesterol has little effect on heart disease. Another big change is that the USDA is no longer recommending blanket calorie intake measurements or dietary guidelines. The department now states: “Strategies should be based on the individual’s preferences and health status and consider the sociocultural influences on lifestyle behaviors that relate to long-term behavior maintenance."
In general, the guidelines now promote a heavy concentration on vegetable consumption, followed closely by whole grain consumption. The guidelines also recommend a high consumption of low or non-fat diary, seafood, nuts, and legumes as foods that are likely to lower disease risk.
Reducing intake of alcohol, red meat, and processed meats are also recommended to lower disease risk. The guidelines also state that artificial sweeteners should not be used as a weight loss method.
Not everyone agrees with the same eating patterns- and indeed, it is natural that certain diets work better for some people than others. A person with a sluggish thyroid, for example, cannot eat all of the same quantities of food as a person with a healthy thyroid without gaining weight. However, there are many positive dietary markers that everyone can get behind- and the 2015 dietary guidelines focus on those food groups.
The 2015 USDA dietary guidelines are the first to remove cholesterol from the “watch intake” category. In the past, the dietary guidelines recommended avoiding high cholesterol foods, but recent studies have shown that dietary cholesterol only affects about 25 percent of the cholesterol levels in the body. The original guidelines were created based on a misunderstanding of how cholesterol works. Reducing cholesterol doesn’t always improve health, because cholesterol is produced when the body is under stress (typically from poor eating habits). Only when the body heals and eating habits improve do high cholesterol levels fall. If you eat more cholesterol, the body simply produces less. The new dietary guidelines reflect the new understanding of how cholesterol works.
Vegetables are listed in the guidelines as what should be the biggest food category in the diet. This promotion of a vegetable-rich diet is beneficial and offers building blocks for a healthy body. The guideline authors noted that today’s Americans in all age groups eat far below the recommended amounts of vegetables even based on 2010 guidelines.
Seafood contains many beneficial nutrients, but many Americans eat little to no seafood. Seafood is one of the best foods to eat for mood and brain-boosting omega-3 fats, which also work to fight inflammation in the body. The guidelines recommend that Americans consume more seafood on a regular basis.
The guidelines recommend limiting sugars, unhealthy fats, and processed foods. Overall, the 2015 dietary guidelines recommend that Americans consume more whole foods and less processed foods in general. Rather than focusing on minute amounts, the guidelines focus on avoiding processed foods, added sugars (but not replacing them with artificial sweeteners), and unhealthy fats such as hydrogenated oils.
Although the 2015 USDA dietary guidelines do offer many health improvements over previous editions of the guidelines, there are still a few areas where the information used to determine the health effects of certain foods are based on outdated studies and medical information. Newer studies show that the following foods demonized by the dietary guidelines may not be any worse for you than any other foods.
The dietary guidelines still insist that low-fat and nonfat dairy are healthier. However, numerous recent studies have refuted this claim. In reduced-fat dairy, not only are some vital fats and nutrients missing, but the sugar concentration is higher. Added sugars are worse for your health and a lack of fat means you will feel hungrier sooner and likely consume more calories overall. Since the introduction of low fat guidelines, the obesity rate in the United States has more than doubled.
Additionally, studies on thousands of adults have found no difference in weight or disease risk. The Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial studied nearly 13,000 men who were at high risk for heart attack. Some men ate whatever they wanted, while others followed a low-fat diet. At the end of the study seven years later, the men showed no difference in risk of heart attacks or overall death risk.
Just like low-fat diets show, reducing saturated fat intake has little to no effect on health or disease risk. In 2014, researchers from The Ohio State University found that even when saturated fat intake was tripled, the amount of a fatty acid linked with diabetes and heart disease in the body did not change. However, when study participants at a diet higher in carbohydrates, fatty acid levels rose significantly.
According to this study, you are more likely to have a heart attack from eating too many muffins than too many steaks.
Previous dietary guidelines recommended reducing salt intake to between 1500 mg and 2300 mg a day (about ¾ of a teaspoon to one teaspoon). The current guidelines simply state that many Americans can benefit from reducing their sodium intake. Most Americans today consume about 2-3 teaspoons of salt daily.
However, the link between high sodium intake and problems like high blood pressure are weak. A review of seven major studies on sodium consumption conducted by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that when the researches examined qualified studies including 6,489 participants, even though reducing salt intake had a minor benefit on reducing blood pressure, there was no reduction in heart disease risk or risk of death.
Eating less meat is recommended in the guidelines, but this advice may be based on older studies. Often, when meat is studied, all types of meat are studied, including processed meats along with fresh meat. Few studies have examined the effects of unprocessed meats on health. However, low fat studies typically request that study participants eat less meat (which contains saturated fat).
The Women’s Health Initiative studied over 46,000 women over a period of seven years. Some women ate a low-fat diet, while others ate whatever they wanted. At the end of the study, the women weighed about the same and had no difference in cancer risk or heart disease risk. Based on this data, the amount of unprocessed meat you eat is unlikely to have much effect on disease risks.
Additionally, meat contains many nutrients that are essential to the body’s natural processes; such as Preformed vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin K2, Carnosine, and vitamin D3.
The guidelines recommend eating mostly vegetables, followed next by fruit and whole grains. Fat and protein are recommended in lower quantities. However, recent studies have shown that high carb diets tend to cause more health problems and prevent more weight loss than lower carb diets (what is classified as a “low-carb” diet varies from study to study, but usually means the study participants eat more fat and protein than carbohydrates).
A diet high in carbohydrates can lead to insulin resistance, which can eventually lead to leptin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Several studies have found that carbohydrates and added sugars influence the levels of leptin and insulin the most- not fat or protein.
If you follow the 2015 USDA dietary guidelines, you will be healthier than if you eat fast food every day. However, the guidelines are still behind in some areas- notably that eating a lot of carbs, avoiding saturated fat, and eating low-fat foods are bad for your health. With a few modifications, however, the guidelines show a transformation in the health food industry that has been lacking for many years.
Today’s dietary guidelines focus on eating as few processed foods as possible, which is extremely important for optimal health. If you want to take charge of your health, make the following small changes in addition to following the USDA guidelines:
Processed foods should never be a large part of your diet. Fast food, prepackaged meals, and anything altered from its original state (such as processed oils, trans fats, and processed sugar) should be avoided. Try not to consume processed foods more than one or two times a month. Children should also avoid processed foods.
Added sugars are dangerous and have the potential to be deadly. Try to limit daily sugar intake to fewer than 5-6 teaspoons of sugar daily (right about what is present in one can of soda). Most products have added sugars, so by avoiding all processed sugars you will also avoid additional sugar in the diet.
Fat is essential for health and absorption of many vitamins and minerals. However, the kind of fat you eat is extremely important. Trans fats and hydrogenated fats should be avoided as much as possible. Vegetable fats also tend to be unhealthy because they are heavily processed. Animal fats and fats from nuts, coconut, and palm tend to be healthier and easier to process.
The USDA guidelines encourage Americans to consume more whole foods, which is important not only for optimal health but also for American farming. Overly processed foods are not only bad for humans, but animals are unhealthier and plants lack nutrients. Transferring to whole, sustainably-raised foods is better for everyone. If possible, grow some of your own foods at home or purchase food from a local farmer’s market.
If you haven’t been eating well, have a sluggish thyroid, or have been a vegetarian at some point, you could be lacking in the following essential vitamins. These vitamins are essential for not only thyroid health, but also for overall optimal body function while you reset your diet, or during off seasons when getting certain nutrients is more difficult.
In a positive step in the right direction, the new guidelines more closely follow recent health studies contradicting old beliefs and incorrect medical information. As the dietary guidelines catch up with recent studies, it is likely that the overall health of Americans will improve from childhood up. As long as adults and children cut back on sugar, removed processed food from the diet, and focus on eating more vegetables, protein, fat, and fruit than carbohydrates, it is likely that obesity rates and disease risk will fall.
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