Since 1980, the federal government has advised Americans on how eat to reduce risk of chronic disease and meet nutrient needs. Known as the Dietary Guidelines, this advice is created by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA), and has changed significantly throughout the years.
“The revisions and updates reflect a greater understanding of the importance of healthy eating patterns as a whole—and how foods and beverages act together to affect health,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., dietitian and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.
Every five years, including this year, top nutrition scientists and researchers examine recent literature and adjust the Dietary Guidelines as they deem necessary. Though only time will tell what they come up with this year, many practicing nutritionists have changes they’d like to see. Here are six updates they’re hoping for.
1. A Reduced Added Sugar Allotment
First of all, the current guidelines take a confusing stance on sugar. “The recommendation is to consume less than 10 percent of calories from added sugars, which works out to about 50 grams per day for a 2,000-calorie diet,” explains Harris-Pincus. However, she thinks this percentage is hard for the average person to interpret and implement.
“The American Heart Association is more stringent with their added sugar recommendations,” she says. They recommend a maximum of 24 grams per day for women and kids and 36 grams per day for men. “I would prefer the future Dietary Guidelines adopt the same suggestions.”
Read More: I Cut Out Added Sugar For Two Weeks—Here’s What Happened
Lowering this recommended amount can help reduce the myriad of diseases associated with a high-sugar diet, such as obesity and diabetes, she says.
2. A Clear Definition Of Ultra-Processed Foods
All processed food is not created equal. “Unprocessed or minimally-processed foods include fresh, dry, or frozen fruits or vegetables, grains, legumes, meat, fish, milk, and some canned food items, such as plain legumes (black beans, pinto beans, garbanzos,),” explains dietitian Suzanne Dixon, R.D.N.
“Ultra-processed foods, though, contain added sugar, artificial flavors, and preservatives, which provide no health benefits.
Dixon would like to see the guidelines clearly state that ultra-processed foods should be avoided.
3. Advice About Sustainable Eating
“Our eating patterns have a large impact on the environment (including resources like water, land, and soil) and inputs like fossil fuels, fertilizers, and pesticides,” explains “the plant-powered dietitian” Sharon Palmer, R.D.
“Eating more plant-based and reducing food waste, food packaging, and low nutrient-food choices all reduce our environmental footprint,” she says. Although the previous committee report outlined guidelines for sustainability, the final Dietary Guidelines excluded them. This time around, Palmer hopes the guidelines will address sustainability so our food choices and eating patterns can better protect our environment.
4. More Guidance For Pregnant Women And Children Under Age Two
Previous Dietary Guidelines only addressed the needs of kids ages two and up. Frances Largeman-Roth, R.D.N., dietitian and author of Eating in Color, is excited that the 2020 guidelines intend to address pregnant women and younger children.
“What a mom eats during pregnancy can impact her child’s health for years to come, so it’s an incredibly important time for healthy eating,” she says.
Specifically, she’d like to see specific recommendations for how much choline pregnant women should consume daily, since current recommendations only provide general guidelines for women. “This essential nutrient is vital for the development of an infant’s brain and for prevention of birth defects,” she explains.
5. Recognition That Not All Americans Have Access To Healthful Food
Not every family can afford to put organic fruits and vegetables on the table. In fact, many have little physical access to produce at all.
Christen Cupples Cooper, Ed.D., R.D.N., founding director of Pace University’s Nutrition and Dietetics Program, would like the Dietary Guidelines to recognize this. She also hopes the guidelines will help people make the best choices possible with the resources they have.
“We also need to figure out ways to get healthful food to those who can’t access and afford it,” she says. “Our nation’s health and economic future depends upon it.”
6. An Integration Of Food Knowledge With Food Preparation Skills
“In the past, the guidelines have recommended what people should eat,” says Cooper. “However, they have provided no information on how to prepare their food.”
“Bridging the two would help people understand how recommendations actually concretely turn into breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” she explains.
The result: The average person will be more equipped to eat healthy.
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