New US Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020

The US Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and of Agriculture (USDA) must jointly publish every 5 years a report containing nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public. These guidelines influence policies and funding of schools lunch programs, federal nutrition assistance programs like food stamps and nutrition education.

The new guidelines for 2015-2020 were eagerly awaited and published in January 2016. However, they were met with much disappointment. It seems that many of the recommendations that were formed by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee were ignored, most probably due to politics and certain industry interests (meat and dairy come to mind).

Following are the five guidelines that are supposed to encourage healthy eating patterns:

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern across your lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
  4. Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
  5. Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.

These guidelines are accompanied by key recommendations that further specify healthy food groups and provide limits on components that pose health risks.

These key recommendations are:

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

A healthy eating 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

A healthy eating pattern limits saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium:

  • 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.


As I have mentioned above, many of the recommendations made by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) were ignored. Some critics of the new guidelines even recommend to ignore these and instead follow the recommendations made by the DGAC.

One of the key recommendations by the DGAC – and an issue close to my heart as you know if you have followed my blog for a while – is, that we should eat sustainably. We should eat more of a plant based diet to reduce environmental impact of food production such as water and energy consumption, land use and greenhouse gas emissions.

“The global production of food is responsible for 80 percent of deforestation, more than 70 percent of fresh water use, and up to 30 percent of human-generated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It also is the largest cause of species biodiversity loss. The capacity to produce adequate food in the future is constrained by land use, declining soil fertility, unsustainable water use, and over-fishing of the marine environment. Climate change, shifts in population dietary patterns and demand for food products, energy costs, and population growth will continue to put additional pressures on available natural resources. Meeting current and future food needs will depend on two concurrent approaches: altering individual and population dietary choices and patterns and developing agricultural and production practices that reduce environmental impacts and conserve resources, while still meeting food and nutrition needs.”

As you can see from above statement, the DGAC says clearly that global food production has an enormous impact on our environment. It also emphasizes that current and future demand for food can only be met if our dietary choices change.

The DGAC continues to explain how sustainability was a topic, but not specifically addressed in the 2010 recommendations by the DGAC, and the 2015 recommendations would change that. I assume among the reasons is that many other countries have addressed sustainability issues in their national dietary guidelines:

“Although the addition of sustainability topics in the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is new in 2015 it was acknowledged as a topic of strong relevance but not addressed by the 2010 DGAC. It has been a widely discussed aspect of nutrition policy for the past decade in countries such as Germany, Sweden and other Nordic countries, the Netherlands, Australia, and Brazil. …. Nordic countries, such as Sweden, have been researching sustainability and dietary choice since the late 1990s with the most recent edition of the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR) including an emphasis on the environmental impact of dietary recommendations. The German Dietary Guidelines developed a “sustainable shopping basket,” which is a consumer guide for shopping in a more sustainable way. Overall, the environmentally sustainable dietary guidance from these countries includes elements identified in this DGAC report as consistent with the extant data: a focus on decreasing meat consumption, choosing seafood from non-threatened stocks, eating more plants and plant-based products, reducing energy intake, and reducing waste. Non-governmental and international organizations, such as the United Nations, the FAO, the Sustainable Development Commission in the United Kingdom (UK), the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the National Research Council have all convened working groups and commissioned reports on sustainable diets. Overall, it is clear that environmental sustainability adds further dimensions to dietary guidance; not just what we eat but where and how food production, processing, and transportation are managed, and waste is decreased.”

Source: (Part D. Chapter 5: Food Sustainability and Safety – Introduction)

This sustainability aspect has not found its way into the actual 2015-2020 guidelines as they obviously have been censored by politics and industry interests. I would like to cite David Katz (M.D., MPH, FACPM, FACP, FACLM, founding director (1998) of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, and current President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine) here as he found the exact words to describe the guidelines:

“I won’t mince words: In my opinion, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, just released today, are a national embarrassment. They are a betrayal of the diligent work of nutrition scientists, and a willful sacrifice of public health on the altar of profit for well-organized special interests. This is a sad day for nutrition policy in America. It is a sad day for public health. It is a day of shame.”


Apparently Congress had decided that sustainability is not within the scope of the guidelines. I find it very strange indeed that the ability to supply the food that is being recommended is not considered relevant.

In addition, the DGAC does not only recommend a plant based diet for reasons of sustainability, but also says that a diet higher in plant based foods is more health promoting.

“The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains. Vegetables and fruit are the only characteristics of the diet that were consistently identified in every conclusion statement across the health outcomes. Whole grains were identified slightly less consistently compared to vegetables and fruits, but were identified in every conclusion with moderate to strong evidence. For studies with limited evidence, grains were not as consistently defined and/or they were not identified as a key characteristic. Low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, nuts, and alcohol were identified as beneficial characteristics of the diet for some, but not all, outcomes. For conclusions with moderate to strong evidence, higher intake of red and processed meats was identified as detrimental compared to lower intake. Higher consumption of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages as well as refined grains was identified as detrimental in almost all conclusion statements with moderate to strong evidence.”


So as far as I am concerned I will tell my family, friends and clients to follow the recommendations from the DGAC and not the dietary guidelines. As David Katz says we have the choice to follow advice from scientists based on proper research and not guidelines which are not actually guiding but use the vaguest language:

“The good news — and there isn’t much this day — is that we don’t have to swallow this. Having chewed on it, and choked on it, we can just spit it out (aim carefully, please — there are nice shoes out there).

I call on you to do just that. The 2015 DGAC Report is in the public domain. Our hypocrisy, thank goodness, has not yet advanced to the level of expunging the work of true scientists entirely. So, ignore the DGs, and turn to the DGAC Report for guidance instead. It is accessible to you, and it is about you — not the wealth of Congressional cronies.”



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