New Dietary Guidelines Focus Less on Fats, More on Added Sugars

The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Agriculture (USDA) have just released dietary guidelines for Americans for 2015 to 2020. The guidelines for added sugars, saturated fats and salt have changed significantly. I think that the changes are good, although they may not have gone far enough. Specifically, the guidelines recommend a daily limit of added sugars to less than 10% of calories, saturated fats to less than 10% of calories and sodium (salt) to less than 2300 mg.

The top sources of added sugars are sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g., soda and fruit drinks), desserts (e.g., grain and dairy) and candy. The average American consumes 350 calories per day of added sugars. To follow the guidelines, the average American would have to reduce his or her intake of added sugars by half. I think that this would be a good thing for our health, including cancer risk. Sugared soft drinks are “weapons of mass destruction” in our diets.

For the first time in the four decades of the guidelines, a limit on total fats is not recommended. Instead, the guidelines recommend limiting saturated fats. This gives a green light to unsaturated fats (found in nuts, vegetable oils and fish) and cholesterol (found in eggs). Cholesterol (not a saturated fat) is no longer a “nutrient of concern.” In plain language, this means that eggs are not so bad after all and that DHHS and USDA are changing their tune after 40 years. To me, this means that I will continue to limit red meat and processed meats, and I will move my diet toward eggs, nuts, fish and vegetable oils like olive oil.

For 40 years, the government and many experts have advocated a diet low in fats and high in carbohydrates. This has resulted in “low fat” becoming synonymous with “healthy.” Ironically, Americans have reduced the fat in their diet over the decades, but at the same time, we have increased the added sugars and calories in our diets, resulting in too many of us being overweight and obese.

The 2015 Guidelines, for the first time, reject the idea that “low fat, high carbohydrate is automatically healthy.” Instead, they leave room for some fats in the diet, but focus on limiting empty calories. For me, this means that the butter on my whole wheat toast that helps satisfy my hunger until lunch is healthy. The nuts with lunch that help satisfy my hunger until dinner are also good for me. Fat is not kryptonite. Modest amounts of fats can be good for us.

As a physician, I look forward to seeing more emphasis on avoiding added sugars like sugared soft drinks, limiting saturated fats as in limiting red meat, and limiting the salty foods that run up our blood pressure and cause us to overeat. The 2015 Guidelines are a good step in the right direction.

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