The New Nutritional Guidelines - What They Mean for You

UW Health dietitian Cassie Vanderwall explains what the new food guidelines meanMadison, Wisconsin - About half of American adults have one or more preventable chronic diseases that are tied to nutrition and more than two thirds are overweight or obese.


While that's old news, it is something the U.S. Department of Agriculture (commonly known as the USDA) and Department of Health and Humans Services takes into consideration when they review their nutrition recommendations every five years. And they're due out this year.


While the revised guidelines are still in the approval process, Cassie Vanderwall, UW Health dietitian, explains, "Poor dietary patterns, eating too much, not moving enough – the underlying causes of the health issues facing a significant number of Americans are of no surprise to anyone. What is amazing is that we eat so much but aren’t meeting our nutritional needs. We are actually undernourished as a nation."


The expert panel responsible for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans looked at what people are consuming too much of - which turns out to be added sugars, sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat. And they're not getting adequate supplies of vitamins and minerals, such as folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron because more than 70 percent of the U.S. population isn’t eating enough fruit and vegetables. So the question becomes - how can those issues be addressed on a large scale? That’s where the guidelines come in.


Many may remember the guidelines described in a "food pyramid." The concept has been updated to ChooseMyPlate, which is intended to help individuals understand what – and how much – they should be eating. Based on the upcoming guidelines, Vanderwall highlights some of the key elements and offers tips for how to make positive changes in your diet.




Sugar-sweetened beverages have been in the news – from New York's attempted ban on soda, to UW Health's own policy change to no longer sell sugar-sweetened beverages on hospital grounds. And there's good reason soda is a main target. "There is significant evidence linking soft drinks to chronic disease. One 12-ounce can of soda can exceed the daily recommendations for added sugar by about 120 percent," says Vanderwall.


Vanderwall explains that we do not have to eliminate sugar, but reduce our daily sugar consumption to be measured in teaspoons, specifically 6 to 9 teaspoons. And, organizations like the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association among others have already established limits for added sugars in a daily diet.


The Recommendation


The maximum amount of added sugars per day includes:

  • Men – 9 teaspoons per day (about 150 calories)
  • Women – 6 teaspoons per day (about 100 calories)
  • Kids – 4 teaspoons per day (about 64 calories)

Tips for Making Positive Changes


Vanderwall acknowledges that it can be incredibly difficult to cut out soda entirely. As a start, try reducing the number of servings of soda per day down to one 12-ounce can or 1 cup (8-ounces). And while many people may turn to diet sodas as an alternative, the challenge is that drinking diet sodas can continue to encourage us to crave sweet things. Instead, she recommends focusing on water, seltzer waters, low-fat dairy and limiting juice to ½ cup – 1 cup per day.


Instead of candy or desserts, try eating fruit instead. Especially in summer, ripe fresh fruit can be every bit as sweet. And, you get the added benefit of bringing more fruit into your diet.




Daily sodium guidelines were actually relaxed a bit, as Vanderwall explained. The 2010 guidelines limited daily sodium intake to 1,500mg, but that was proving to be unrealistic.


The Recommendation


The new guidelines instead suggest 2,300mg, which is the equivalent of about one teaspoon of table salt.


Tips for Making Positive Change


Vanderwall points out that we get a sufficient amount of salt in our foods, and there's no need to break out the salt shaker at the dinner table. Instead, try experimenting with herbs to add flavor to your dishes.




According to Vanderwall, cholesterol is still one of the main compounds that affects the heart health of our nation. Eggs and shellfish tend to be high in cholesterol, which is the reason past guidelines have recommended limiting the intake of both. However, research has suggested that cholesterol in food doesn't necessarily translate into higher levels of cholesterol in the body.


The Recommendation


The limit of 300mg per day was dropped, eggs are no longer off the table. The guidelines do not suggest what an acceptable limit is, but moderation is still important.


Tips for Making Positive Change


While loosening up on cholesterol is probably okay for the majority of individuals, those who are managing conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease or similar conditions should stick to a Mediterranean or DASH diet as recommended by their physician.


Saturated Fats


In research studies, saturated fat is still highly correlated with heart disease. While there is variation in how saturated fat affects individuals, more research needs to be done. "One individual can consume coconut oil and it helps to bring cholesterol down, while for another individual it may skyrocket their levels," adds Vanderwall. "Since these recommendations are global recommendations, it’s important to maintain limits at this time."


The Recommendation


In general, the amount of saturated fat an individual consumes in a day should be limited to 5-10 percent of the overall daily intake. For example, in a 2,000 daily calorie diet, saturated fat should be no more than 100-200 calories per day.


Tips for Making Positive Change


It's basically the recommendations many are already familiar with – limit the intake of red meat and butter, and instead opt for lean and low fat proteins, beans and nuts.


Additional Ways to Make Healthy Changes to Your Diet


Vanderwall puts the recommendations into perspective, "If we were going to wrap it up in a package, the guidelines reflect the Mediterranean diet – mostly plant-based with beans, nuts and seed as the primary source of protein. And it’s a diet high in fiber, mineral and protein and low in fat."


She acknowledges that changing dietary habits requires a lot of forethought and planning, and it either costs more money or more time. Dry beans are significantly cheaper, but you have to spend the time soaking and prepping the beans. Buying a can of beans may cost slightly more, but they’re ready to go the moment you need them. So it’s a matter of personal preference.


And, while it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the information, Vanderwall suggests starting with one change that is easy to make.


"Maybe it's eating out only two times per week instead of four; bringing a salad for lunch instead of a sandwich. Look at what you are currently doing and find the easiest way to start. And typically, that one small thing will start to snowball into other positive changes," says Vanderwall.


And remember to keep perspective on news headlines. One day red wine is touted as being heart healthy, another day it’s coffee – there's always some new "magic" food that can help people stay healthy. But, the information that often makes headlines is just one small part of a much larger study and simply reading the highlight isn’t enough. It’s important to become an informed consumer and ask reliable resources, like a primary care physician or registered dietitian.


"It's really up to individuals and families to choose what is best for them. Knowledge really is power and it frees people to make the healthiest decisions for themselves," she concludes.

Date Published: 06/17/2015

News tag(s):  nutritionwellness

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