Emphasis on less salt, more variety, and "nutrient density" in diet guidelines

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WPVI) -- Variety, nutrient density, and choices - those are the big buzz-words in the new federal dietary guidelines released today.

The guidelines move away from recommending specific amounts, and more toward overall eating patterns

They do, however, target some elements Americans are getting too much of - added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats.

A 1990 law requires that every 5 years, the Department of Health & Human Services and the Department of Agriculture jointly publish nutrition information and dietary guidelines.

They are used for a host of programs, from food package labels to school lunches to you doctor's advice.

The new guidelines missed the 2015 goal, as the advisory committee worked through the complexities of nutrition, as well as extensive lobbying by the food industries and Congress.

This year, one message the government wants to send is that people should figure out what type of healthy eating style works for them, while still hewing to the main recommendations.

The Agriculture Department also released a tweaked version of its healthy "My Plate" icon to include a new slogan: "My Wins."

"Small changes can add up to big differences," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

And the main message hasn't changed much over the years: Eat your fruits and vegetables. Whole grains and seafood, too. And keep sugar, fats and salt in moderation.

One new recommendation is that added sugar should be 10 percent of daily calories. That's about 200 calories a day, or about the amount in one 16-ounce sugary drink.

The recommendation is part of a larger push to help consumers isolate added sugars from naturally occurring ones like those in fruit and milk.

Added sugars generally add empty calories to the diet.

According to the guidelines, sugary drinks comprise 47 percent of the added sugars that Americans eat every day.

After a backlash from the meat industry and Congress, the administration ignored several suggestions from a February report by an advisory committee of doctors and nutrition experts.

That panel suggested calling for an environmentally friendly diet lower in red and processed meats and de-emphasized lean meats in its list of proteins that are part of a healthy diet.

But, as in the previous years, the government still says lean meats are part of a healthy eating pattern.

The 2010 guidelines made a key recommendation that Americans consume less than 300 mg a day of dietary cholesterol, or about two eggs.

Under the new recommendations, there is also no limit on daily cholesterol intake, following increasing medical research showing the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream is more complicated than once thought.

Some more recent studies have shown little relationship between heart disease and how much dietary cholesterol one eats.

Americans also need to lower salt intake, the government says. New figures from the Centers for Disease for Disease Control and Prevention show that around 90 percent of people eat too much. The average person eats 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, and the guidelines say everyone should lower that amount to 2,300, or about a teaspoon.

Lowering sodium intake was the major push of the 2010 guidelines, and that document recommended that those most at risk of heart disease, or about half the population, lower their intake to 1,500.

The new guidelines urge eating less than 2,300 milligrams a day.

As in previous years, the report advises limiting saturated fats to 10 percent of total calories.

And while lean meats are promoted, the government does suggest certain populations, such as teen boys and adult men, should reduce their meat intake and eat more vegetables.

Data included in the report shows that males ages 14 to 70 consume more than recommended amounts of meat, eggs and poultry, while women are more in line with advised amounts.

While the guidelines always have been subject to intense lobbying by food industries, this year's version set off unprecedented political debate, fueled by Republicans' claims the Obama administration has gone too far in telling people what to eat.

Congress got involved, encouraging the administration to drop the recommendations based on environmental impact and at one point proposing to set new standards for the science the guidelines can use.

That language did not become law, however.

A year-end spending bill simply said the guidelines must be "based on significant scientific agreement" and "limited in scope to nutritional and dietary information."