The U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services just released new federal dietary guidelines. The report, which comes out every five years, directly affects government programs, like public school lunches and The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (a.k.a. food stamps). It also gives general recommendations for all Americans—though no one is going to stop you from eating that Twinkie if you want to.
Here are the big changes this time around:
- Focus on "eating patterns" instead of specific nutrients. For the first time, the report says we should think about the big picture, not just "eating less saturated fat." But in a dose of irony, the new recommendations do come with some very specific suggestions (see below).
- Cut down on sugar. Added sugar should make up less than 10 percent of your total calories per day. Most Americans consume about 15 percent of their calories in added sugar now. Translation: Eat more whole, nutrient-dense foods and fewer desserts and sugary drinks, says Sara Haas, R.D., a nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- Go ahead and eat some eggs—or maybe don’t. The dietary guidelines are hilariously wishy-washy when it comes to how much cholesterol we can have in our diets. The previous report was strict about limiting it to 300 milligrams (less than 2 eggs) per day. This time, it dropped the specific recommendation, but threw in this line: “Individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible.” Oh, politics!
- Keep sipping that coffee. Up to five cups per day. The guidelines say it can be part of a "healthy lifestyle" and is linked to health benefits. Score!
- Put down the protein, bro. Teenage boys and men should cut back on meat, poultry, and eggs—no mention of post-workout protein shakes, though.
Surprisingly left out of the report? Any recommendation about limiting consumption of red or processed meat (the World Health Organization suggests it could be linked cancer). Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, says the decision is purely political and that the suggestion for males to eat less protein is a euphemism for everyone to consume less meat.