The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were recently released. They have been the source of much public debate since the original report on which the guidelines are based was released almost a year ago. The final report has ignited a flurry of opinions and commentary from health professionals, media outlets, special interest groups and others.
So what’s all the fuss about? Every five years the federal government updates the guidelines to reflect the latest research on what Americans should eat as part of a nutritionally sound diet to promote health and prevent chronic disease. Most of the recommendations won’t be a surprise to anyone. They suggest Americans eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and grains, at least half of which should be whole grains. They also recommend limiting sugar, salt and saturated fat.
That sounds reasonable, right? However, cries have been sounding from all sides that the guidelines deviate substantively from the original advisory committee report, that they don’t go far enough to counteract the declining health of the American public, or that they go too far, or that that they’ve left out crucial information.
So here’s our take on this ongoing discussion. Are the guidelines perfect? Of course not! What group-written report with public input and special interest group lobbying ever is? But at heart, these guidelines contain sensible advice that can help Americans lead healthier lives. According to the guidelines, an estimated three-quarters of Americans don’t currently eat the recommended amount of fruits and veggies. And most of us eat too much added salt, sugar and saturated fat. If we could all move our diets toward these recommended guidelines, the results would be dramatically improved health of the American population. And this of course means fewer chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Isn’t that something we can all get behind?
We like that the guidelines focus on healthy eating patterns, rather than the previous focus on food groups and nutrients. People don’t eat nutrients or food groups in isolation. One of the joys of cooking is combining foods and flavors to create something new and delicious. So, emphasizing the totality of the diet will help Americans focus on their overall eating patterns. We also like that the guidelines for the first time address reducing added sugar. And while the guidelines de-emphasize language about reducing red and processed meats, they do specifically call for men and boys to reduce their protein consumption and for us all to eat a variety of higher-protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, soy products, nuts and seeds.
We at the OHSU Moore Institute understand the critical relationship between early nutrition and lifelong chronic disease risk and know that to have a lasting impact on population health it is imperative to focus on the diets of women of childbearing age and children under the age of two. That’s why we are so excited that the 2020 guidelines will be expanded to include infants and toddlers, as well as additional guidance for pregnant women.
We could continue to argue about the details of the guidelines until the next version is released in 2020, or we could all get behind the current guidelines and work toward improving the health of the American public one bite at a time.
Read the Dietary Guidelines
Read the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. Look for news articles and commentary related to the guidelines and the advisory committee report on which they are based. Decide for yourself what you think about the guidelines and the process to develop them.
Talk to your health care provider
The next time you see your health care provider, ask what she/he thinks about the dietary guidelines and what you can do to incorporate them into your family's diets.
Organize a class
Are you part of a regular group or club? Why not have a gathering devoted to discussing the dietary guidelines? Find a local dietician through your health care provider, county public health office or local university and invite them to lead the discussion.