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Summary of latest dietary guidelines

Every five years, the American government publishes a set of dietary recommendations based on the latest scientific evidence available. The guidelines have important consequences as they influence public health policy and health promotion guidelines in America. Nutrition forms a fundamental basis of good health and plays an effective role in preventing common diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.


The most recent 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released at the start of 2016 and the key recommendations are summarised below:


  • Focussing on overall eating patterns, a healthy diet consists of:
    • A variety of vegetables of all subgroups including dark green, red and orange vegetables, legumes, starchy vegetables and others
    • Fruits
    • Grains, at least half being whole grains
    • Fat-free or low-fat dairy
    • A variety of protein foods, healthy protein-rich foods include seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes and nuts, seeds and soy products
    • Oils
  • The recommendations suggest that healthy eating patterns limit the intake of saturated and trans fats as well as added sugars and salt
  • Specific recommendations regarding fat and sugar intake suggest
    • No more than 10% of your daily calories should come from added sugars
    • No more than 10% of your daily calories should come from saturated fats
    • Less than 2300 mg/d of sodium should be consumed
    • Alcohol should only be consumed in moderation - up to 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks for men


While the guidelines have drawn praise for recognising the role of added sugar in disease, they have also received criticism from prominent public health figures for being too broad and leaving out some key pieces of evidence.


Critics are disappointed that the guidelines do not include any specific recommendations to decrease the consumption of red meats and processed meats which are linked to an increased risk of cancer. They are also disappointed that the guidelines don’t emphasise the importance of reducing cholesterol intake particularly from eggs.


Despite the criticism, the guidelines form a helpful base upon which to make evidence-based dietary decisions in the hopes of minimising diet-related illness. The overarching emphasis of the guidelines is to focus on maintaining healthy eating patterns rather than individual meals and fad diets.  

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