New U.S. Dietary Guidelines Limit Sugar and Salt but Have One Disturbing Omission

New U.S. Dietary Guidelines Limit Sugar and Salt but Have One Disturbing Omission

New governmental dietary guidelines for healthy eating were released on Thursday with some surprising suggestions from the federal government that belie cooperation with food industry lobbyists. The most surprising omission from the new guidelines is the lack of explicit limitation on meat consumption, going against the recommendation of the government-appointed Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee last February.

“If I were the meat industry I would break out the champagne,” Marion Nestle, a leading food politics expert and nutrition professor at New York University, told Politico. “Nowhere does it say eat less meat.”

While this is not entirely true – there are sections in the guidelines citing “strong evidence” that a diet lower in meat is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and another section urges some men and teenage boys to cut down on meat consumption – the wording is tentative at best, and meat does not get the warning it should have according to the evidence presented by nutritional scientists.

When asked why red and processed meat limits didn’t make the cut for these guidelines, senior USDA and HHS officials cited the limit of saturated fats in the guidelines as a key to avoiding these foods. Other sections encouraging a more Mediterranean diet, which is higher in fish and seafood and lower in red meat, suggest lowering meat consumption but do not expressly urge Americans to cut back.

It is likely that this omission is due to lobbying by the meat industry beginning in March. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association spent more than $112,000 on lobbying in the first three quarters of the year against the limitations on meat in the guidelines.

Another striking omission from the guidelines vis à vis the findings of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee included a suggestion that Americans consider the environmental impacts of food they consume, seeming to pave the way towards a more sustainable, plant-based diet.

Other major changes in this edition of the guidelines include negation of previous advice to limit cholesterol; the new guidelines encourage eating eggs, doing away with the 300-milligram daily limit of dietary cholesterol present in previous iterations. Instead, the new guidelines advise that “individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible,” though the concern is not related to cholesterol itself but rather to the association between foods high in cholesterol and foods that are higher in saturated fats. This is true of meat, but not true of eggs, which have made the healthy proteins list.

“If you connect the dots together scientifically, we don’t believe there is a strong influence between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol,” dietician Lisa Drayer told NBC. “Even when I was training to be a dietitian, we knew that eating eggs didn’t increase your cholesterol as much as saturated fat does. So the government advice is catching up to the science.”

Sugar is limited in the new guidelines to for the first time, which urge people to get no more than 10 percent of their calories from added sugar. This guideline may allow the FDA to move forward on mandating added sugar labeling on food packaging. This recommendation is only half as strict as the recommendation by the American Heart Association with regards to added sugar.

Fat was already addressed in the 2010 dietary guidelines, limiting saturated fat consumption to no more than 10 percent of daily calorie intake. The new guidelines go into more depth on the concept of healthy fat, including omega-3s.

The new guidelines also seek to reduce sodium consumption to 2,300 milligrams a day, about a teaspoon of salt.

The federal healthy living guidelines have been updated every five years since 1980 and have proven to be a key to how the food industry does business as well as how Americans eat, as the guidelines dictate school and food assistance programs. Doctors and nutritionists often use them when giving advice to patients and clients.

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Healthy food image via Shutterstock

Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.