Barack Obama’s administration unveiled dietary guidelines on Thursday that urge Americans to limit their sugar intake and call on men and boys to eat less protein but eased previous recommendations on cholesterol and sodium.
The guidelines, which are released every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, echo recommendations from past years for Americans to curb their sugar and saturated fat intake, especially in the form of sugar-laden sodas and sports drinks.
In a departure from the 2010 guidelines, the government set a specific limit for added sugars: 10 percent of total daily calories, about the amount in a single can of soda. The recommendation mirrors calls from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization, made last year. In the average U.S. diet, added sugars account for closer to 13 percent calories consumed, with that figure as high as 17 percent for children and teens.
The new guidelines recommend that Americans limit their intake of saturated fats — such as in butter, whole milk and some meats and oils — to less than 10 percent of their total daily calories, which echoes suggestions from previous years.
However, the government dropped a recommendation from 2010 that Americans at risk of heart disease limit sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams a day, instead offering the broader recommendation that people older than 14 consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily, about the amount in a teaspoon of table salt. About 90 percent of Americans consume too much sodium, an average of 3,400 milligrams daily, the report said.
The guidelines also backed off a long-standing recommendation that Americans should consume less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily, a little less than the amount found in two eggs. The government, however, said that people should “eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible” to stave off cardiovascular disease.
The report also singled out boys and men. “Some individuals, especially teen boys and adult men, also need to reduce overall intake of protein foods by decreasing intakes of meats, poultry and eggs and increasing amounts of vegetables or other underconsumed food groups,” the report said.
The report’s primary message repeated those of previous years: Focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and proteins such as lean meats, eggs, legumes and nuts.
"By focusing on small shifts in what we eat and drink, eating healthy becomes more manageable,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell in a statement.
Recommendations on meat consumption were contentious among health and environmental experts who say the government is ignoring science in favor of listening to industry. Despite an advisory committee report released in February 2015 that was supposed to inform the recommendations and cited scientific evidence that healthy diets were “lower in red and processed meat” in order to avoid cardiovascular disease, obesity and other diseases, the dietary guidelines abandoned those findings.
They also made no mention of the advisory committee’s recommendation that Americans seek a diet that is more environmentally friendly and sustainable, higher in plant-based foods and “lower in calories and animal-based foods.”
While senior administration officials on Thursday denied bowing to pressure from the food industry, Kari Hamerschlag, the senior program manager with the advocacy group Friends of the Earth, said in a statement that the new guidelines ignored strong scientific evidence on the need to eat less meat for health, food security and environmental reasons.
“The administration has clearly put the financial interests of the meat industry over the weight of the science and the health of the American people,” she said.
Still, some health experts applauded the guidelines.
“If Americans ate according to that advice, it would be a huge win for the public’s health,” Michael F. Jacobson, the president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement.