Sharon Palmer is a registered dietitian, editor of the award-winning health newsletter Environmental Nutrition, and a nationally recognized nutrition expert who has personally impacted thousands of people’s lives through her writing and clinical work. Visit her blog or follow her on Twitter.
The Plant-Powered Dietitian’s Take on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee just released their report, which took me a small tree (1 ½ reams of paper) to print out. I anxiously await this report, which is released every five years, as I will refer to it all year long. What’s so special about the DGAC report? It’s the culmination of America’s leading nutrition experts hashing and poring over the current body of nutrition research in order to come up with their best odds dietary recommendations for our country to achieve optimal health. It’s a really big deal, as it sets the tone for nutrition policy in the US, as well as the rest of the world. This report will become the basis for Federal and nutrition policy and programs, as well as private settings, such as hospitals and business.
So what does the DGAC report say this time? Here’s the deal. America is under-consuming several nutrients: vitamins A, D, E, C; folate, calcium, magnesium, fiber and potassium. And we’re over-consuming two nutrients: sodium and saturated fat. In addition, Americans are under-consuming key food groups that provide important sources of these shortfall nutrients: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and dairy. We’re also consuming too many refined grains and added sugars. The diet quality in our food system isn’t where it should be—there are many opportunities to obtain more of these foods and nutrients in the choices we make, at home meals, restaurants, and schools, but we’re not making the most of these opportunities.
Instead of focusing on individual nutrients, the DGAC refreshingly suggests three healthy dietary patterns (a full description of the meal plans are available in the report):
• Healthy US-style Dietary Pattern
• Healthy Mediterranean Style Dietary Pattern
• Healthy Vegetarian Dietary Pattern
I’m so excited to see a recommendation for a vegetarian dietary pattern in the DGAC! The overall body of evidence indicates that a healthy diet pattern should include: more vegetable, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts, moderate in alcohol, lower n red and processed meat, and less sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains. These three eating patterns can achieve these eating goals.
The whole goal of the DGAC recommendations is to reduce the occurrence of obesity, as well as the risk of chronic diseases, including CVD, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Our current eating pattern in the US contributes directly to increasing the risk of these conditions; half of American adults have one or more preventable chronic conditions. These guidelines also are in agreement with AHA and AICR dietary recommendations to reduce risk of heart disease and cancer.
In addition, the DGAC discusses the important of behavior changes to effect health outcome, such as reducing screen time, reducing frequency of eating out at fast food restaurants, increasing family share meals, self monitoring diet and body weight, as well as effective food labeling and nutrition counseling by qualified nutrition professionals (go registered dietitians!).
To make this happen, it will take a village, says the report, with communities facilitating access to healthy and affordable food choices that respect cultural preferences, especially within low income individuals. The DGAC emphasizes that Federal policies need to help prevent food insecurity (49 million people in US are food insecure) and help immigrants maintain healthy eating habits when they arrive to the US. They also focused on settings in which food is available—community food access, child care, schools and worksites—and their relationships to dietary intake quality.
Interestingly, the DGAC considered sustainability this year—the first time ever. The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods (my mantra!), such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and lower in calorie and animal based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than the current US diet. It can be achieved through the three healthy eating patterns. The current US diet is higher in animal-based foods and lower in plant-based foods than proposed in these three dietary patterns.
The DGAC also covered a few side issues. When it comes to coffee consumption, they consider it safe and maybe even beneficial at a moderate intake of 3-5 cups per day or up to 400 mg caffeine per day, although they warn against the consumption of high caffeine energy drinks. Aspartame also is safe, according to the DGAC. And thy further stressed the need to reduce foodborne illnesses with responsible practices. In addition, they dropped their previous recommendation to reduce dietary cholesterol.
I’m happy that the DGAC reexamined these hot topics: the evidence on sodium, saturated fat and added sugars, which have been under public scrutiny since the 2010 guidelines. The bottom line: They encourage consumption of dietary patterns low in saturated fat, added, sugar and sodium—goals are less than 2,300 mg dietary sodium per day, less than 10% of total calories from saturated fat per day, and a maximum of 10% of total calories from added sugars per day. This should be accomplished with shifting the dietary pattern to foods, such as replacing sugar foods with fruits; saturated fat with PUFAs.
Physical activity continues to be important for all people in all life cycles—children, adolescents, adults, older adults, women during pregnancy and postpartum and individuals with disabilities. They have requested an update of the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, given the very low physical activity participations rates in the country.
It will take concerted, bold action on the part of individuals, families, communities, industry and government to make a positive change in American’s lifestyle, says the DGAC. The DGAC report offers a wealth of information on a range of subjects, such as healthy eating patterns, top sources of calcium, and prevalence of medical conditions in the U.S.
I’m very excited about this report, as it supports what I talk about daily: the best diet for human health and the planet is a diet based on whole, minimally processed plant foods.
To view the full DGAC report visit: http://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/