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1.11: Understanding the Bigger Picture of Dietary Guidelines

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    Skills to Develop

    • Describe the major themes of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

    The first US dietary recommendations were set by the National Academy of Sciences in 1941. The recommended dietary allowances (RDA) were first established out of concern that America’s overseas World War II troops were not consuming enough daily nutrients to maintain good health. The first Food and Nutrition Board was created in 1941, and in the same year set recommendations for the adequate intakes of caloric energy and eight essential nutrients. These were disseminated to officials responsible for food relief for armed forces and civilians supporting the war effort. Since 1980, the dietary guidelines have been reevaluated and updated every five years by the advisory committees of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS). The guidelines are continually revised to keep up with new scientific evidence-based conclusions on the importance of nutritional adequacy and physical activity to overall health. While dietary recommendations set prior to 1980 focused only on preventing nutrient inadequacy, the current dietary guidelines have the additional goals of promoting health, reducing chronic disease, and decreasing the prevalence of overweight and obesity. The guidelines are also used to provide a scientific basis for the USDA school food lunch program and the Food Stamp program.

    Figure 1.11.1: Dietary guidelines help people to stay on a healthful track by drawing attention to the overall scope of their diet and lifestyle. © Dreamstime

    Why Are Guidelines Needed?

    Instituting nation-wide standard policies provides consistency across organizations and allows health-care workers, nutrition educators, school boards, and elder-care facilities to improve nutrition and subsequently the health of their respective populations. At the same time, the goal of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines is to provide packaged informative guidelines that will help any interested person in obtaining optimal nutritional balance and health. The eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines was released in 2015 and focuses improving overall eating patterns. Former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says, “The bottom line is that most Americans need to trim their waistlines to reduce the risk of developing diet-related chronic disease. Improving our eating habits is not only good for every individual and family, but also for our country.” The Dietary Guidelines are formulated by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) from the review of thousands of scientific journal articles by a consensus panel consisting of more than two thousand nutrition experts with the overall mission of improving the health of the nation.

    Figure 1.11.2: The major theme of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a healthy eating pattern combined with regular physical activity.

    Major Themes of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines

    The 2015 Dietary Guidelines consists of five major action steps for the American public to improve their eating habits. It also includes several key recommendations. These five steps are as follows:

    • Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan.
    • Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount.
    • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake.
    • Shift to healthier food and beverage choices.
    • Support healthy eating patterns for all.

    We will discuss the highlights of each chapter of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines; however, if you are interested in reading more, visit the USDA website,

    How should you develop a healthy eating plan to best achieve your goals of losing weight, gaining weight, or maintaining weight? We will start with some basics and move on to healthy eating patterns.

    To provide further guidance, several key recommendations are provided. These should be applied in their entirety because of their interconnectedness.

    Consume a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.

    A health heating pattern includes:

    • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups - dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
    • Fruits, especially whole fruits
    • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
    • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
    • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
    • Oils

    The following components of the diet should be limited in order to achieve a healthy eating pattern:

    • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars
    • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats
    • Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium
    • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation - up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men - and only by adults of legal drinking age.

    Finally, all Americans regardless of age should meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

    Foods and Food Components to Reduce

    High consumptions of certain foods, such as those high in saturated and trans fat, sodium, and added sugars may contribute to the increased incidence of chronic disease. Additionally, excessive consumption of these foods replaces the intake of more nutrient-dense foods.

    Table 1.11.1: A Little Less of These, Please
    Dietary Constituent Health Implications Recommendations
    Excess sodium High blood pressure Limit intake to 2,300 mg daily
    SoFAS (solid fats and added sugars) Obesity, Type 2 diabetes, CVD, cancer Avoid if possible
    Too much alcohol Impaired liver function, impaired motor function No more than one drink per day for women;
    No more than two drinks per day for men
    Too much saturated fat Cardiovascular disease Limit intake to < 10 percent of total calories
    Trans fats Cardiovascular disease Minimal, if any consumption
    Cholesterol Cardiovascular disease Minimal, if any consumption
    Alcohol Drink in moderation if you have to drink
    Caffeine Drink in moderation
    (no more than three to five 8 oz cups/day)

    The average person consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, mostly in the form of table salt. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans reduce their daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams. If you are over the age of fifty-one, are African American, or have cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, sodium intake should be reduced even further to 1,500 milligrams. The Dietary Guidelines also recommend that less than 10 percent of calories come from saturated fat, and those fat calories should be obtained by eating foods high in unsaturated fatty acids. Cholesterol intake should be decreased to below 300 milligrams per day and trans fatty acid consumption kept to a bare minimum. The Dietary Guidelines stresses the importance of limiting the consumption of foods with refined grains and added sugars, and introduce the new term, SoFAS, which is an acronym for solid fats and added sugars, both of which are to be avoided in a healthy diet plan. Nelson, J. and K. Zeratsky. “Dietary Guidelines Connect SoFAS and Weight Gain.” Mayo Clinic, Nutrition-Wise (blog). August 25, 2010. Moreover, if alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed only in moderation, which for women it is not more than one drink per day and for men is not more than two drinks per day. The macronutrients protein, carbohydrates, and fats contribute considerably to total caloric intake. The IOM has made recommendations for different age groups on the percentage of total calories that should be obtained from each macronutrient class (Table 2.5).

    Table 1.11.2: Recommendations for Macronutrient Intake As Percentage of Total Calories
    Age Group Protein (%) Carbohydrates (%) Fat (%)
    Children (1–3) 5–20 45–65 30–40
    Children and Adolescents (4–18) 10–30 45–65 25–35
    Adults (>19) 10–35 45–65 20–35

    Source: 2010 Dietary Guidelines.

    1.11: Understanding the Bigger Picture of Dietary Guidelines is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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