New dietary guidelines emphasize big picture

Federal recommendations focus on patterns of eating, simple tweaks

fruit and fries

DIET CHOICES  New recommendations for healthy eating suggest adopting good habits long-term and choosing nutrient-dense foods over unhealthy ones. 


New dietary guidelines for 2015–2020 have arrived, just in time to assist people whose New Year’s resolutions involved better eating.

On January 7, the U.S. departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture released the eighth edition of the guidelines, a set of science-based recommendations that are revised every five years.

Diet watchers will recognize many oldie-but-goodies: Eat your beans and greens; limit saturated fats, added sugars and salt. But some key pieces of advice from the last go-round in 2010 didn’t make the cut, like restricting cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams per day. (The new recommendation scraps the old limit, instead suggesting that people “eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible.”)

The 2015–2020 guidelines have also shifted their focus: This time, rather than emphasizing specific food groups and nutrients (such as whole grains and potassium), the guidelines target eating patterns — everything a person eats and drinks over time.

“All food and beverage choices matter,” the new guidelines state. Even minor dietary tweaks can be important: Swapping out a midmorning doughnut for a handful of baby carrots, for example, could be a simple way to improve a person’s health.

The guidelines did set some daily numeric limits. People shouldn’t consume more than: 

  • 10 percent of calories from added sugars;
  • 10 percent of calories from saturated fats;
  • 2,300 milligrams of sodium;
  • One alcoholic drink for women, and two for men.

Altogether, though, the new guidelines suggest that people don’t need to follow complicated diets, or tally up each and every nutrient they consume each day to stay healthy. 

Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.

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