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Meeting for U.S. Food Regulations and Dietary Guidelines

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Every 5 years the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture update the nation’s dietary guidelines. Just a few short weeks ago a committee of top nutrition experts were tasked with advising the federal government with their recommendations to reflect the latest and greatest in food and nutrition research. For the first time in a long time the discussion presented looked promising and was put online to gather public opinion.

Why does this matter? Well, those guidelines help government officials set policy about things like food assistance funding or how to feed the military, which trickles all the way down to how teachers educate students about healthy eating. For this reason we are excited that the best nutrition experts on the planet are helping pioneer our nations future food guidelines not just politicians with an agenda.

We know you don't want to read through a long report filled with scientific and political jargon so we’ve done that for you and broken it down:

Shift the focus from nutrients to food

The committee believes that our nation should be encouraged and guided to consume a diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in dairy products and alcohol; lower in red meats and processed meats; and low in sugar sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains. These dietary patterns can be achieved in many ways and should be tailored to the individual’s biological, medical, and socio-cultural preferences.

What does this mean? According to Dr. Katz director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, “If we get the foods right, in sensible combinations, the nutrients sort themselves out…If we just keep fixating on any given nutrient, we just wind up inventing new ways to eat badly.”

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Cholesterol limits are gone, but that doesn't change much.

According to the committee cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern for overconsumption and does not need to be limited to 300 mg per day. Rather, the committee does not find it as important as some of the other recommendations and believes that by eating less meat they will be eating less cholesterol.

Sustainability is a big part of good nutrition

Much to the dismay of the U.S. Congress (and the delight of environmentalists), the committee for the first time considered the environmental impact of our diets. To that end, they recommended eating a plant-based diet that was low in red and processed meat, and they were roundly criticized for it by meat industry spokespeople.

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Katz said he appreciated the report’s emphasis on sustainability, saying, “It’s time to acknowledge that the health of people, and the planet, are ineluctably linked".

There needs to be real limits on sugar!

For the first time, the committee is recommending that added sugar products comprise no more than 10 percent of someone’s daily caloric intake. These recommendations are in line with the World Health Organization’s strong recommendations, which actually go a step further by encouraging people to eat no more than 5 percent of daily calories from added sugar.

To help consumers reach that goal, the committee put forth several hard-hitting sugar policy recommendations that include putting a percent daily value on sugar the way we do for salt, putting nutrition information on the front of all packaging, putting taxes on sugar sweetened beverages and limiting junk food marketing to children.

Cornell University Prof. Tom Brenna emphasized that the tax was simply one of many recommendations meant to help Americans avoid or escape obesity and diabetes, “The recommendation on taxes — clearly, that’s the Legislature’s job” however “ It’s just part of a package of how to encourage people to eat the right things.”

The emerging link between food and mental is acknowledged

Brenna also noted that he was most proud of the fact that the committee considered, for the first time, the link between foods and mental health. For instance, the report mentions that the American Psychiatric Association classifies omega-3 fatty acid supplements (normally found in seafood) as “complementary therapy” for major depressive disorder. And some studies show that a diet high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and seafood are linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

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While the advisory committee eventually concluded that they couldn’t make policy recommendations based on the limited studies available, Brenna is encouraged about the continuing research around it.

“I’m proud that we took that up and I hope that it’ll be a part of nutrition research moving forward, because what happens above the neck is pretty important,” he said.

He also notes that, luckily for us, the type of foods that seem to protect mental health have also been linked to reduced risk of other chronic diseases like metabolic and heart disease.

As you can there are some pretty compelling points of discussion here, that if followed could potentially make a huge impact on the health of our nation. It is important that we make ourselves aware of what's going on and voice our public opinion to help make these suggestions reality.