The U.S. government is recommending that Americans limit their intake of foods and drinks with added sugar to less than 10 percent of their daily calories, while easing some of its previous restrictions on cholesterol and sodium, according to a report from an advisory committee on the nation’s dietary guidelines released Thursday.
The panel of health and nutrition experts combed through the latest medical research to update the national dietary guidelines, which are revised every five years by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS). The guidelines call for an “environmentally friendly” diet that limits processed and red meats, is “lower in calories and animal-based foods” and focuses on “plant-based foods” such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
In particular, the committee emphasized stricter limits on added sugars — frequently found in sugar-sweetened sodas and sports drinks — to no more than 10 percent of a person’s calories per day.
Rather than replacing soft drinks with beverages sweetened with low-calorie alternatives, the panel recommended skipping the soda altogether and drinking water, because there was “inconsistent evidence” that so-called “diet” sodas actually help a person lose weight.
Americans get around 13 percent of their calories from sugars, and many children and young adults even more, the panel said. But Tufts University professor Miriam Nelson, a member of the panel, told the Associated Press that that 10 percent target was “within reach.”
The panel also reversed some of its advice from the 2010 dietary guidelines. For example, the panel retracted its previous guidance that Americans consume no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day, because “available evidence shows no appreciable relationship” between consuming cholesterol in the diet and elevated levels of cholesterol in the blood. In other words, it’s OK to eat eggs again.
It reiterated its 2010 recommendation that people consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, but eased its previous advice that those at risk for cardiovascular disease consume less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day. That’s because a 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine found little evidence that eating less than 2,300 milligrams each day is beneficial for scaling back the risk for heart disease.
And in good news for coffee fans, the committee said that the latest research shows consumption of about three to five cups of coffee per day is beneficial for health. Such “moderate” coffee drinking is associated with a reduced risk for Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even Parkinson’s disease — though it cautioned against adding excess sugar or “high-fat dairy or dairy substitutes.”
Rather than focusing on limiting a few different harmful nutrients, people should change their lifestyles as a whole, the committee said.
An emphasis on a healthier diet and more physical activity is imperative, the authors wrote, in a nation where about two-thirds of American adults are considered overweight or obese, the committee said. More than half of all adults have at least one preventable chronic disease related to poor diet and physical inactivity, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.
“The dietary patterns of the American public are suboptimal and are causally related to poor individual and population health and higher chronic disease rates,” wrote Barbara Millen, chair of the advisory panel, in a letter to HHS Secretary Silvia Mathews Burwell and USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack. “Unfortunately, few improvements in consumers’ food choices have occurred in recent decades. On average, the U.S. diet is low in vegetables, fruit, and whole grains and too high in calories, saturated fat, sodium, refined grains, and added sugars.”
The recommendations, which were first published in 1980, will be released in their final form later this year by the USDA and HHS, and will be open for public comment for 45 days.
With the Associated Press