Every 5 years, the U.S. US-DeptOfHHS-Seal1_0Department of Health & Human Services and the U.S.D.A. release the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Hence, the 2015 guidelines are out….released January 7, 2016. (Yes, they were a little late on the draw.)

Who comes up with these guidelines? A large scientific committee of health professionals and registered dietitians. They review the scientific evidence on different foods, beverages, eating patterns, nutrients, behaviors, etc. and identify what Americans need to do to reduce chronic disease risk. By following the guidelines, the goal is to reduce your risk for diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke – the diseases so prevalent in our American society that reduce the quality of our years.

So, what do the Dietary Guidelines 2015 recommend? You can view the full document at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/. Until then, here’s a brief synopsis…

One of the most notable changes this edition was the recommendation to limit added sugars to less than 10% of your total calories. For example, if you consume a 2000 calorie diet, limit your added sugars to less than 200 calories per day. If you purchase a 20 oz. Coca Cola from the vending machine, you’ve already exceeded the limit. Note that that recommendation refers to added sugars, not sugars naturally in products such as the lactose in dairy or fructose in fruit. (But the chocolate in the chocolate milk counts.)

You also want to limit your sodium intake to 2300 mg per day (the American Heart Association recommends limiting it to 1500 mg per day). “Wait”, you say….”I’ve already stopped using the salt shaker on my food.” Sorry, but we get most of our sodium from our processed foods…from restaurant meals, soups, sauces…even “healthy” foods like cottage cheese, and foods that don’t taste salty, like ice cream. Fortunately, your food label can be a great resource as you learn about the sodium in your foods. Just take the time to turn the package over, review the food label, and choose items with lower sodium.

Okay, one other nutrient to limit: saturated fats. This type of fatty acid is found in high quantities in high fat meats and other animal products, along with palm and coconut oils. The good news is that you can also find this information indicated on food labels. The recommendation is to limit your intake to less than 10% of your daily calories (yes, just like added sugars). Translated to a 2000 calorie diet, this means to limit your intake to about 22 grams of saturated fats per day (each gram of fat provides 9 calories).

Quick note: notice that the recommendations are to limit, not avoid. Too often people try so hard to avoid these items and feel deprived in the meantime. The key word is moderation….learning how much and how often. Also, these are the daily recommendations but your overall health depends on what you do most of the time, not in one meal or one day. It’s what you do on average that counts!

Onto which foods to promote more of in your diet….they will come as no surprise! Focus on a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, a variety of high protein foods (fish, lean beef, poultry, beans, eggs, nuts, soy products to name a few), and plenty of heart healthy oils like olive, canola, peanut and sunflower oil. We often focus so much on what NOT to eat, instead think of what TO eat. How can you incorporate more of these foods into your diet? Maybe start by substituting whole wheat flour when you make pancakes. Or dinner becomes fish tacos instead of your usual beef or chicken. What about switching back to cow’s milk from almond milk to improve the nutrient quality of your milk? So many places to start!

Here’s to the next 5 years….let’s make them some healthy ones!