New U.S. Dietary Guidelines: Cut Down — Way Down — on Sugar
The report also recommends more fruits and veggies, regular exercise and cutbacks in salt, trans fat and saturated fat
Uncle Sam wants you to make one major fix to your diet: Eat less sugar. The recommendation to limit added sugar to 12 teaspoons a day is one of the main changes in the latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are issued every five years.
Our unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle, the guidelines say, is the one-two punch behind a soaring rate of obesity, heart disease and other ills. The guidelines also advise eating less sugar, salt, saturated fat and trans fat.
Some experts have criticized the guidelines for not mentioning food sustainability or recommending a cutback in overall red meat intake. Lisa Kimmel, MS, RDN, senior manager of Yale University’s employee wellness program and co-author of “Generation Extra Large,” suggests taking a “glass half full” approach, using the guidelines to build a diet focused on more whole fruits and vegetables and less saturated fat, trans fat, salt and added sugars.
“Working towards this goal by making small, sustainable changes can have a profound effect on decreasing your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease,” Kimmel says.
Here are five highlights of the new guidelines:
1. Limit added sugar to no more than 10 percent of your daily diet. If you take in 2,000 calories a day, this means limiting sugar to no more than 12 teaspoons a day, or 200 calories' worth. The challenge is that the average American exceeds 22 teaspoons a day, with teens creeping up to an average of 34 teaspoons a day, according to the American Heart Association. One 12-ounce can of non-diet soda, for example, contains up to 150 calories from sugar. That’s almost your whole day’s allotment right there.
Added sugar is listed in grams on food labels, which makes it harder to figure out how many teaspoons you’re getting. “Translating teaspoons into grams doesn’t come naturally to many of us, so we are hopeful that the upcoming revised Nutrition Facts will make this easier to apply to real-world eating," Kimmel says. "By the way, there are 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon.”
Eating less sugar is smart for a number of reasons. For example, a recent report published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that Americans who consumed the most sugar — about 31 teaspoons a day — were twice as likely to die from heart disease as those who kept their sugar intake to 10 teaspoons a day. Another study found a link between excess sugar and breast cancer in mice.
2. Cut back on meat and other animal protein. An expert advisory committee behind the guidelines had recommended Americans cut back on red meat and processed meat, but this recommendation was dropped after heavy opposition from meat industry, according to a report from National Public Radio. Instead, the guidelines simply hint we should eat less meat by pointing out that many men and teen boys eat more than the recommended 26 ounces a week of protein from animal sources.
The guidelines recommend that people who eat more than 26 ounces a week of animal protein "reduce overall intake of protein foods by decreasing intakes of meat, poultry, and eggs and increasing amounts of vegetables or other underconsumed food groups.” The guidelines also recommends boosting other sources of protein, such as nuts and seeds and about 8 ounces of seafood per week.
3. Cut back on salt. The latest recommendations limit salt to 2,300 milligrams a day (the average American gets 3,440). For people with high blood pressure or in danger of developing it, the recommendation is no more than 1,500 a day. Hidden sources of salt include canned soups, fast food and processed foods.
4. Eat more fruits and veggies and get regular exercise. The advice to eat more fruits and vegetables is unchanged. The government recommends 1 ½ to 2 cups’ worth of fruit a day and 2 to 3 cups’ worth of veggies daily. So far people don’t seem to be paying much attention: Only one in 10 Americans consumes enough fruits and vegetables, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
5. Eggs are safe to eat regularly. The report says nothing about avoiding high-cholesterol foods, since there is little evidence that eating these foods translates into harmful LDL cholesterol levels in the blood.
The guidelines report stresses that people should concentrate on a healthy diet that fits their lifestyle. "These patterns can be tailored to an individual's personal preferences, enabling Americans to choose the diet that is right for them," it states.