Surprise changes in dietary guidelines

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The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee last week reported to the Secretaries of the Department of Health and Human Services and Agriculture their dietary recommendations for the United States population. Most of their findings were similar to those released in previous years but there were some surprises.

A healthy diet is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes and nuts, and lower in red and processed meats, refined grains and sugars, and salt. When looked at by the individual nutrient, it was determined that there are current nutritional deficiencies in potassium and fiber and the overconsumption of saturated fat, sodium, and carbohydrates. These recommendations are based on a strong body of consistent evidence and have not changed versus previous years.

They are suggesting that substitutions are the easiest way to improve things. For example, eating out less and eating less processed foods with automatically reduce sodium, carbohydrates, calories and saturated fat. Using water, unsweetened tea, and black coffee instead of soda, energy drinks, or fruit juice as the main source of liquid can cut unwanted calories and carbohydrates. Serving less red meat and unrefined pasta at dinner and adding more fruits and vegetables to every meal is a smart substitution.

The biggest change is that you do not have to worry about limiting cholesterol because its relationship to blood cholesterol levels and bad health outcomes is not strong. This means that people who limited their intake of eggs could add more eggs to their diet in place of other protein sources like red or processed meat and still be considered healthy as long as they had a balanced diet. The others include increasing the upper limit of caffeine to 400mg which is 4-5 cups of coffee and supporting moderate alcohol intake (1-2 drinks maximum) among adults.

Over the past five years, increased evidence has come out which allows researchers to tease out the effect of cholesterol consumption from the consumption of a higher calorie and higher saturated fat diet. If you are eating three eggs in the morning with bacon, sausage, cheese, and toast with butter, you are consuming many more calories than you need and you are consuming high fat and saturated fat foods. It’s hard to know who the culprit is there. They call these risks collinear and until you can specifically study people who consume higher cholesterol foods with a normal calorie load and low saturated fats.

Race and ethnicity play a role too. Compared to Caucasians, Asians are more likely to eat seafood, Latinos had higher dietary fiber intake due to the higher consumption of beans and legumes, and African Americans had higher sodium and saturated fat consumption with lower fiber consumption. However, they know that economic factors play a role and the region of the country you live in also plays a role so there is definitely many different factors that intersect here and most Americans can do something to improve their diet.

Dr. C. Michael White; Professor/Head Of Pharmacy Practice, Univ. Of Ct Health Center