Between the Lines of the New Guidelines

January 12, 2016 in Food Economics, Foodland, General, Health, Health Claims, Mediterranean, Uncategorized by Joyce Bunderson

Another five years have gone by and thus the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines have been released jointly by the Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). You may think that the guidelines don’t really have much to do with you; but by understanding them, your own diet can be improved. In addition, they truly affect many people’s diets, even if they don’t realize it. The National School Lunch Program, which serves 31 million children daily, and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) serves 8.3 million people. Beyond that the military, many hospitals and large businesses have meals that strive to adhere to the dietary guidelines.

I’m always interested in the updated guidelines, because schools and public health programs are based upon the latest recommendations. It’s always a disappointment to me to read the new guidelines. Generally, I am looking for stronger statements about foods, which have long been protected by fierce efforts from their industry groups. Being fairly well informed about the latest research; I like to read what is finally settled upon and reflect on previous victories and defeats of the best research-based advice. This year’s 571-page report is not an exception to the political compromises that are made. If you want to read the report, the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is posted online for the public. It’s frustrating that the food industry has so much power to sway the dietary guidelines. I do understand that they represent huge industries, real people and their real jobs. But I know also, that real health and consequently enormous costs for healthcare is influenced by these guidelines. That is why it is sad to see the power of industry food giants to sway the guidelines.

Let me share a few thoughts about the new dietary guidelines. At the heart of the advice is very good, sound advice: the admonition to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but not lots of junk foods. This is not a news flash; it’s been this way for years. The committee has spent some effort to try to guide Americans to stop obsessing over individual nutrients and focus on a healthy “dietary pattern” filled with fruit, vegetables and whole grains (at least half of grains should be whole grains), a variety of proteins (including lean meats, seafood, nuts), and oils. This I fully endorse and am grateful.

Today, I’ll discuss some of the highlights and changes in the new guidelines.

Added Sugars:

This is the first time that the guidelines have recommended a cap for sugars. Hip, Hip, Hooray! The guidelines suggest that Americans should consume less than 10% of daily calories from added sugars. Getting down to 10% will require steep reductions in sugary snacks and sodas. Maybe the manufacturers of processed foods – a source of much of the hidden added sugar – may be motivated to reformulate their products. OK, maybe – it’s possible – it could happen, you never know.

The guidelines are based upon a 2000-calorie-a-day diet, so 10% of that diet is about 50 grams of sugar. A single can of sugar sweetened soda can max out the limit for the day; Big Gulp – maybe not for anyone! This new guideline (200 calories) is double my often written-about American Heart Association goal of keeping sugar below 100 calories for a woman and 150 calorie goal for a man. The good news, as related to sugar, is that Americans are creeping down on consumption. Something is working. Another Hip, hip, hooray!

Don’t forget that sugar is not just in sodas, candy, cake, and ice cream – check out the label for your bottled sauces, crackers, dressings, and catsup.

High Fructose Corn Syrup lost its halo; but for some reason honey has maintained its. Honey is a sugar and should not be consumed with wild abandon. When counting sugar calories, be sure to include those from honey. If you want to read a little more on the subject, you may want to consider an article published on September 11, 2015; Honey isn’t as healthy as we think by Peter Whoriskey. Note the food processors are well aware of honey’s halo. Why else would they be using the word honey in the name of their products (Honey grams, Honey Smacks (Sugar Smacks renamed) or slapped on the front of the box with products largely made from sugar. The food processors frequently put in a drop of honey, so they can claim, “made with real honey” in the marketing. That’s right. It only takes a drop of something people think is good to enable marketers to make the deceptive claim “Made with…”.

If some of the empty calories of sugar (and all the other caloric sweeteners) are replaced with wholesome foods, the health of the nation is expected to improve.

Saturated Fats:

The cap for saturated fats is also set at 10% of calories per day; and the public is encouraged to replace saturated fat with unsaturated fat, because unsaturated fat is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. What I’m not too delighted with is the fact that the guidelines don’t spend effort in identifying sources of saturated fats. Heads up! Red meat, cheese, butter, and high-fat dairy should be considered foods to be eaten sparingly. Replace with olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil, safflower oil and other good oils. When you do choose cheese and other dairy, go for the low fat versions and/or eat them sparingly. Replace some of your butter with oil – try mixing the two if you want the butter flavor. Be very careful with meat; small portions or vegetarian substitutes will help keep your saturated fats to below 10%.


The cap for sodium as been set at less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. One of the disappointments of the new guidelines is that I believe that most of us are completely clueless to how much sodium we are eating. I wish the Advisory Committee spent more effort in helping to point out the sources of sodium. About 90% of Americans consume well in excess of the limits for sodium advised by the new guidelines. This is a serious problem, as too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, and can lead to increased risk for heart disease and stroke. Some chain-restaurant pasta dishes contain well over 2,000 mg of salt per dish. One of the easiest ways to reduce our salt intake is to eat more home-cooked foods using less-processed products. The good thing about understanding the sources of sodium in our food environment is that we as a nation are FAR exceeding this sodium recommendation. Maybe more of us will begin noticing the labels on processed foods. Discovering the amount of sodium in cookies, baked goods, sauces and so on, we may pull back a bit. Maybe we’ll take the next step and learn to use more herbs and spices to replace some of the sodium.

Processed Meat and Red Meat:

No limit has been set in spite of the reports that these foods have been strongly linked to health problems, including heart disease and cancer. The USDA and HHS officials responded to questions about this issue with a comment that some meats are higher in saturated fats than others. The research that I’ve read, does not point to saturated fat specifically. There’s something about processed meat and red meat. The World Health Organization has judged processed meats to be carcinogenic. From what is known so far, it seems to be a dose response relationship – that is, the more you eat the greater your risk. So once again the meat producers have influenced the government not to put limits to meat consumption, even for highly processed meats.

So if you want to avoid this risk try to identify ways to cut back in consumption. For example, experiment with different sandwich fillers (replacing processed meats). Plan processed meats with breakfast less frequently or not at all. Leave processed meats out of recipes. One way to do this and still keep the flavor is to add the kind of spices used in sausage into ground lean turkey breast. The following is one of the mixtures that I use for a half pound of ground turkey:

¼ to ½ teaspoon fennel seed

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon sage

½ teaspoon thyme

Salt to taste

If you make several zip bags with the mixture, you don’t have to get all the spice bottles out each time you want to make beans and greens or some other traditionally sausage-containing recipe.

The chief cancer control officer of the American Cancer Society, said in a statement; “By omitting specific diet recommendations, such as eating less red and processed meat, these guidelines miss a critical and significant opportunity to reduce suffering and death from cancer.” I say; the meat processors, the various cattlemen’s associations and the North American Meat Association are POWERFUL!!! This omission is heartbreaking.


As related to cholesterol, the new guidelines are fairly confusing. They have dropped the specific limit for dietary cholesterol (300 mg/day – roughly about the amount in one egg); which certainly, makes the American Egg Board exultant. Eggs have even made the list of suggested sources of protein. But the report reads: “This change does not suggest that dietary cholesterol is no longer important to consider when building healthy eating patterns.” I understand the argument for eggs. Certainly there are few animal sources that are so low fat, including low in saturated fat, and low in calories as economical eggs. They are a boon to the family food budget. However, having some kind of numerical guideline may have been helpful.

A very interesting development is that the Physicians Committee praised the new dietary guidelines for strengthening cholesterol warnings, but is demanding an investigation into “the food industry and its financial pressures that nearly toppled cholesterol warnings.” The demand documents a money trail from the American Egg Board to universities where Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee members were employed. A lawsuit was filed on January 6, 2016 by the Physicians Committee regarding the warnings on dietary cholesterol. It is remarkable that they singled out lowly eggs from among the strong saturated fat products meat and cheese, which also escaped limits.

It is definitely confusing. The cholesterol warnings state “individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible. A news release on January 7, 2016 tells the story of the cholesterol warnings being nearly toppled. The dust has not really settled yet. The physicians are apparently happy with the new “as little as possible” standard and the egg lobby is happy that there is no longer the stated limit of 300 mg per day. So I guess we should keep our focus on the “little as possible” goal. If you’re consuming a plant-based diet, you will be consuming as little as possible. Plants don’t have cholesterol. So as related to cholesterol, it seems that the most important factor is to keep our attention on saturated fats first – meat, cheese, dairy products, and poultry.

It appears that we should get the Institute of Medicine involved more often – they have the clout to get action. This time they managed to delay publication of the guidelines until cholesterol was limited. And in addition, they are demanding an answer to how the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee would be so easily swayed by industry. It would be truly comforting if there were indeed some responsibility in being swayed by industry. Let’s face it; the meat, dairy and cheese industries are not exactly helpless little industries. Let’s follow those cholesterol-generating industries a bit, too.

The Physicians put cholesterol in the cross hairs of their anger with the guidelines, and they make eggs and the egg lobby sound a lot worse than they are. Eggs are high in cholesterol all right, but they are also low in fat; low in saturated fat; low in calories, are a superior protein source, and are low cost. So this relatively low cost source of excellent protein is strapped with the high cholesterol problem. The physicians’ contention that cholesterol is related to obesity and thus heart disease and other diseases is clearly connected with dairy, cheese, poultry and meat; but the low fat, low calorie egg? Obesity — really? We’ve read plenty of new research that leads us to believe that the most important source of cholesterol is saturated fat; so it makes me a bit confused. We know that dietary cholesterol does not increase your blood cholesterol as much as saturated fat does. It makes me wonder; why did the Physicians group eggs in with the meats, cheese and other saturated fat sources whose lobbies they didn’t accuse of undue influence?

Because cholesterol is only found in animal foods, some might worry that their vegetarian friends or family will not have enough cholesterol for their physiological and structural needs. But the fact is that we make more than enough cholesterol in our bodies – we don’t need to get cholesterol from our foods and that underlines the “little as possible” guideline. The big BUT is that the language in the section about dietary cholesterol says, “as little as possible,” which is, of course, consistent with the focus on a plant-based diet (plants having no cholesterol), but it doesn’t develop an easy to understand set of guidelines about how much is too much.

Fruit Juice:

This is an area of disappointment for me. In spite of the fact that fruit juice is lower than whole fruit in dietary fiber and other nutrients, the guidelines say one cup of 100% fruit juice counts as one cup of fruit. Fruit juice impacts blood sugar differently than eating whole fruit; it spikes it; like drinking soda or other sugar-containing drinks. Fruit juice is an economical way to get some of the nutrients in fruit to schools and other feeding programs, but it is certainly not optimal. I’m sure that those working on the childhood obesity and diabetes problem are less than happy with this standard. A cup of whole edible apple slices, for example, are about 57 calories and a cup of apple juice is about 117 calories; a 60 calorie difference. Grapes have a similar problem; one cup of grapes is 62 calories and a cup of grape juice is 170 calories; a 108 calorie difference. For those struggling with weight issues (over 66% of our nation) this is a significant issue, in my humble opinion.

Fruit and Vegetables:

The new guidelines recommend eating 2½ cups of a wide variety of vegetables from all the subgroups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit (half from whole fruit – that is, not juice). If fresh fruit drives up your food budget too much, you may want to consider using frozen fruit. Frozen berries are markedly lower cost than fresh. We enjoy them year-round from the freezer. Frozen strawberries that have been defrosted in the microwave and lightly blended are a frequent topping for our whole-wheat pancakes at our home.

I use frozen mangos frequently because they are easier to manage than fresh. I always have them on hand and don’t need to worry about getting them ripe for just the right meal. I frequently chop frozen mangos to make a relish for fish. We enjoy that combination very much.

Since we’ve purchased a Yonanas machine, I’ve had an easier time managing fruit. I just slice over ripe bananas or other fruit that I will not be able to use in time and pop it in a zip bag in the freezer. It’s truly amazing how sweet unsweetened frozen fruit is as a soft serve confection. Fruit – nothing more, is very nice for my ice cream-loving diabetic husband. And yes, Yum I enjoy it too.

Whole Grains:

Whole grains were specifically identified as a shortfall food group in American diets. That’s pretty easy to fix with a little attention. Now there are so many good breads, pastas, brown rice, quinoa, and oats available. The guidelines are only asking that half be whole grain. I personally recommend that we strive to use as much whole grain as possible, to fill our grains needs. Whole grains can help you live a longer life.


The new guidelines say drink as many as five cups of coffee daily. Some people may question this, from their own experience and other research, but on balance, research shows that caffeine intake equivalent to three to five cups of coffee is not only safe, but also appears to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults. It may also protect against Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately, there may be a correlation between coffee consumption and Alzheimer’s – you may want to read a report in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.


No real changes – it is still one drink a day for women and two for men.


Besides naming eggs to the list of suggested source of protein, eating at least 8 ounces of seafood per week is among the new guidelines. The guidelines encourage Americans to emphasize eating protein from seafood, lean meat and poultry. However, teenage boys and men have been singled out as eating too much protein; they are being encouraged to eat less meat, poultry and eggs.

The entire report is emphasizing that Americans move away from meals built around animal protein and toward diets more heavily derived from plants. Not only will Americans reduce their risk of disease, but also in addition, they will ease pressure on the environment if they follow this recommendation. The new guidelines push the U.S. nutritional policy toward a traditional Mediterranean diet (emphasizing consumption of moderate fish and chicken consumption, whole grains and only a little added sugar; fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes dressed in olive, nut, canola and soybean oils.) This push is a great start, as those embracing the Mediterranean diet have longer life spans and lower rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. Plant-based diets are a benefit to those trying to keep their weight under control, prevent chronic conditions, like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Being a flexitarian fits nicely into the ideas being shared by the committee for the new guidelines. It’s like mix and match. The guidelines are giving ideas for vegetarian meals, Mediterranean meals and healthy American-style diet; they can all be healthy. They point out that soy products, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds are good protein sources.

If one of your goals for 2016 is to move toward plant-based eating there are some very nice resources on the California Walnut Commission’s website. Sure most of the recipes include walnuts, but don’t let that stop you; the information is great. It applies to a plant-based diet in general, and you can use other nuts as well.

One of the biggest frustrations with the new guidelines is that not enough effort was spent identifying foods that we should limit strongly to avoid heath problems. The guidelines want the public to limit saturated fat, for example; but don’t develop where the saturated fat is (processed foods; meat; cheese; whole milk, full fat dairy products and baked goods). The same problem exists for sodium. Does the public really realize how much sodium is in packaged, prepared, processed foods, restaurant and fast foods?

We’re off to a running start for the next five-year period. Hopefully, all the work that went into these guidelines will result in some improvements in our nation’s health. A great new anonymous quote is: True health-care starts in your kitchen, not in Washington."