New Dietary Guidelines: More Plants, Less Sugar, Coffee’s Cool

Last week, the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee proposed new updated Dietary Guidelines to encourage Americans to eat healthier. Some of the new recommendations seem more obvious and in line with the most current thinking in the world of nutrition and health (e.g. eat less sugar), but some were more novel. An age-old villain in the world of nutrition, cholesterol, is being let off the hook, and the Committee introduced the idea of eating not only for our health but also for the health of the planet.

Lea Basch, Registered Dietitian for The Tasteful Pantry, wasn’t really surprised by the new guidelines. She is very familiar with the damage that eating too much sugar can do to your body, given her expertise in diabetes education. Here are the highlights of the new guidelines.

1) Eat more plant-based foods. This includes whole grains, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds and vegetables. 7 servings of fruits/vegetables a day is recommended. A serving is usually a small piece of fruit or ½ cup; 1 cup of raw or ½ cup of cooked vegetables. 
2) The restriction on dietary cholesterol was lifted. Therefore foods like eggs and shellfish are not restricted because they do not raise your body’s cholesterol. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can now gorge yourself on bacon and french fries – they still caution against eating too much saturated fats and staying away from trans fats. See #5 below.
3) Coffee is ok! Coffee in moderation (3-5 cups) is not unhealthy and can actually help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. This is the first time coffee has been discussed in the guidelines. But watch the syrups, cream, and sugar – those add on some not-so-healthy calories.
4) Limit added sugars. This was a big one. The new guidelines cut down the recommended amount of sugar to 200 calories a day – that’s the amount of sugar in one 16 oz. sugary drink and about half of the current recommendation! Specifically, replace those sodas and sugary drinks with water and limit refined carbohydrates (white flour/sugar/rice/pasta), as they affect blood sugar levels.
5) Limit meat, for health as well as the environmental impact of animal growing and production. This is the first time that environmental concerns have been part of the dietary guidelines. The Committee recognized the linkage between favorable health and environmental outcomes, and now nearly every agency in the federal government has some focus on climate issues, right down to the dinner table! In addition, it has been shown that consuming lots of fatty meats and other forms of saturated fats influence the risk of cancer, heart disease and inflammation.
6) Limit added salt. Sodium should be limited to less than 2300 mg. per day. This is actually less restricted than before but most Americans still eat more sodium than this limit.
7) Alcohol consumed in moderation can be part of a healthy diet.
8) Exercise and sleep. Exercise at least 2.5 hours a week (of moderate intensity aerobic exercise) and get enough sleep.
In case you had any doubt, the Committee’s recommendations were based on a rigorous review of relevant scientific evidence, which is good news since these Dietary Guidelines serve specifically as the cornerstone for all federal nutrition education and program activities, as well as providing recommendations for the general public. As always, if you have any questions about the new guidelines or what’s right for your diet, you can email Lea at and see your questions answered on the website!

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