Stop chugging sugary soda and munching sweet treats. Cut back on red meats, butter and other sources of saturated fat. Lay off the salt shaker. Eat plenty of fruits and veggies. And don’t worry about having an egg and an extra cup of coffee with your breakfast.
These are the conclusions of the advisory panel that helps shape America’s official dietary guidelines, and they appear to be about the same as they were back in 2010, the last time the guidelines were updated, dietitians say.
“What’s good about the report is that much of it is reinforcing what we saw in 2010,” said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report this year concludes that Americans are still eating far too much sugar, salt and saturated fat, increasing their risk of chronic and deadly illnesses.
Americans also aren’t getting adequate levels of important nutrients such as vitamin D, calcium, potassium, fiber and iron, the committee found.
This consistent message could help Americans who want to eat right but are confused by constantly changing recommendations, Diekman said.
“What the committee has recommended is what the current science supports, which is our intake of added sugars and saturated fats is still too high. If we expect to reduce our risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity, we need to make a shift to more plant foods,” she said. “Maybe if we go a second time around on ‘this is what the science shows,’ the consumer will hear the science-based message and consider change.”
The worst foods for the American diet are burgers, sandwiches, tacos, pizza, desserts and sweet snacks, and sugar-sweetened beverages, the committee found.
Foods like burgers, tacos and pizza–what the report calls “mixed dishes”–are the main source of salt and saturated fat in the U.S. diet. They contribute 44 percent of Americans’ sodium intake and 38 percent of saturated fat intake, according to the report.
Sugary soft drinks also are a major source of salt, and also supply 47 percent of Americans’ added sugars. Snack cakes and sweets contribute 31 percent of added sugars and 18 percent of saturated fats.
But there are a couple of foods that aren’t worth the worry they’ve been given in the past, the report says:
- The committee recommends lifting the Dietary Guidelines’ previous restriction on cholesterol intake of 300 milligrams per day, or about an egg and a half. There’s no clear link between the cholesterol people eat and blood cholesterol levels–instead, saturated fats are to blame for high cholesterol, the report concludes.
- Drinking three to five cups of coffee a day is not linked to any long-term health risks, and, in fact, has been associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. “Therefore, moderate coffee consumption can be incorporated into a healthy dietary pattern, along with other healthful behaviors,” the report found.
People’s diets include less added sugar than a decade ago, the committee found, but Americans are still taking in far too many “empty calories.”
The threat that added sugar poses to Americans’ health is such that the committee floats the idea of taxing foods that contain extra-high levels of sugar and salt. Such taxes “may encourage consumers to reduce consumption and revenues generated could support health promotion efforts,” the report states. “Alternatively, price incentives on vegetables and fruits could be used to promote consumption and public health benefits.”
People would be best off if they follow a “lifestyle” diet in the vein of the Mediterranean diet, the “DASH” (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, or the eating patterns previously recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the committee found.
While the diets vary slightly, they all recommend eating lots of fruits and vegetables, plenty of whole grains, and a good amount of low-fat dairy; limiting red and processed meat intake; eating more poultry and seafood; eating nuts, olives and other sources of healthy fats; and avoiding foods made with lots of sugar or refined flour.
The report provides the basis for the updated 2015 Dietary Guidelines that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will release later this year. Those guidelines will provide the rubber-meets-the-road advice that consumers need.
“We won’t know if they make any changes to recommended portions until the guidelines come out,” Diekman said.