New Food Guidelines: Are They Really Better Than Before?

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By Joanne Beccarelli

In early January, the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion published their 5-year update to the dietary guidelines. While the advisory panel intends to publish a guideline based on research and fact, the recommendations are also shaped by political positions and special interest groups.

The following is a synopsis of the new guidelines with the addition of comments and references to articles that provide additional viewpoints.

What Shape Are Most Americans In Today?

Nearly half of American adults in the country are struggling with diseases that are considered preventable and are related to poor choices in diet and lack of exercise.

These facts helped shape the latest guidelines:

  • Most Americans consume too many calories. Over ⅔ of adults and ⅓ of youth are obese.
  • About ¾ of the population has a diet that is low in vegetables, fruits, dairy and oils.
  • More than ½ of the population is at or above the recommended consumption of grains and protein foods, but may be falling below on subsets of these groups.
  • Most Americans are far exceeding the recommended levels of added sugars, saturated fats and sodium.
  • Only 20% of adults meet the physical activity guidelines. In addition, physical activity associated with simply living has declined.

The Recommendations Only Change A Little

In general, the Dietary Guidelines suggest eating more vegetables and fruits, more seafood and whole grains and to cut back on foods high in added sugar, refined grains, sodium and saturated fats.

These are the 5 overarching guidelines of the recommendations:

  1. Embrace a healthy eating lifestyle that spans a lifetime.
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density and amount.
  3. Develop eating habits with less added sugars, saturated fats and sodium.
  4. Shift to healthier choices for food and beverages that are nutrient dense.
  5. Everyone should be involved in creating healthy eating patterns.

These are the specific elements describing a ‘healthy eating pattern’:

1.Eat more vegetables in place of other foods. Include a variety of vegetables in all colors, including dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), plus starchy and other vegetables.

2. Include whole fruits.

3. Include grains, at least half of which are whole grains.

Comment: Aiming for all whole grains and leaving refined grains for only occasional consumption is a better approach.

4. Include fat-free or low-fat dairy and/or fortified soy beverages.

Comment: This element is largely tied to the milk industry with the exception of one conciliatory nod to non-dairy milk. 

I recommend reading other articles on the perils and merits of animal milks, as well as soy. In addition, read these to learn more about other non-dairy milk choices: Pro/Con: Milk, 12 Frightening Facts About Milk, Holy Cow – Why I Drink Raw Milk.

5. Shift to more variety in protein foods, including seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds and soy products. Lower consumption for teen boys and adult men.

Comment: The inclusion of vegetarian protein sources is new. Also, changed is the missing discussion of cholesterol. Overall, the protein discussion is largely tied to and lobbied heavily by food industries.

A little known fact is that the advisory panel planned to include a statement about choosing protein sources based on sustainability and environmental impacts, but was prevented as a result of a Congressional directive limiting the scope of the recommendations.

The most important follow-up for all consumers is to become better educated about all the foods that contain protein: 14 Best Vegan and Vegetarian Protein Sources.

6. Shift to oils from solid fats (butter, margarine, shortening, lard, coconut oil). Increase consumption of foods that naturally contain oils.

Comment: This recommendation contains many mixed messages. While getting fats from foods is mentioned in the details of the report, the summary focuses largely on consuming more vegetable oils, which are added oils, not natural fats.

Again, there is a lot of information on this subject, which can enhance your personal decision: Are Vegetable and Seed Oils Bad for your Health?, Why Do You Avoid Adding Vegetable Oils?

7. Limit trans fats.

8. Limit saturated fats to less than 10% of total calories.

9. Limit sugars to less than 10% of total calories.

10. Limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day.

11. If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation by adults of drinking age.

As a once-every-5-year occurrence, in a time when a food revolution appears to be unfolding in the U.S., it is surprising and disappointing that so little has changed in what was actually put on paper and shared.

With the outlines of a bigger proposal hiding in the shadows, we can see the advisory committee’s shift towards broader thinking and acknowledgement that a healthy diet is attainable beyond the Standard American Diet.

However, this update contains a lot of the same advice, leaving us to push forward, knowing that we at need to continue to bring you the latest knowledge in using food to get healthier. Stay tuned for more exciting information and feel free to use the search feature to find numerous articles on your questions and concerns.


Joanne Beccarelli
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Joanne Beccarelli

Holistic Health Coach, Juicing Junkie and Writer at GLAD for Health
Joanne Beccarelli is a holistic health coach, juicing junkie, writer, soon to be cookbook author and recovered emotional eater. Inspired by many great voices in the health-thru-food revolution, Joanne found her way out of hiding in shame (losing almost 100 lbs in the process) and stepped away from the corporate world. She now dedicates every day to helping others who are overwhelmed, overworked, and overstressed, find awareness, fulfilment and better health.

Joanne has a Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from eCornell/T. Colin Campbell Foundation, and became a Certified Health Coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She is also a member of American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP), and the International Association of Health Coaches (IAHC).
Joanne Beccarelli
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