A few weeks ago the United States Department of Agriculture published the eighth annual update to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. I used to get very excited about the guidelines. I would read the advisory committee report line by line and anticipate the publication of the guidelines based on expert review of science. Each year I would read the guidelines and feel a little more let down that “this was it” and think “we know all this already”. Now, the guidelines just bore me. It isn’t because the guidelines are bad or wrong. And it isn’t because I don’t love nutrition. I think it is because after being a dietitian for eighteen years it always comes down to the same simple recommendations of eat more vegetables, eat more fruit, eat more beans, lentils, legumes. Basically, eat more plants and less of everything else. It is commons sense. I would feel bad having someone pay me to give them this advice. It’s just not that exciting anymore.
Every five years a committee of the brightest and most experienced nutrition and health professionals are selected to provide recommended updates to the USDA based on the latest advances in scientific understanding. It is a long and drawn out process and they do come up with few new things like finally acknowledging that fat isn’t the total bad guy and nuts, seeds, and oils should have never been cut out of the diet in the first place. There is also the acknowledgement that eggs were also good all along and that eating cholesterol in the yellow center has little influence on total cholesterol. Then there is sugar, the ingredient everyone I know and don’t know loves to hate. Ten percent or less of your total calories should be from added sugar. For most people this will be about forty to fifty grams of added sugar per day. That is something to work with. It doesn’t mean we all have to search for “hidden sugar” in our food. Sugar is far from hidden. The grams are right there on every packaged food in plain sight. Read and weep if you must but, it is of little consequence to your body if that total is “added” or naturally occurring. So sugar zealots please do me a favor and not sweat this nuance until the rest of the population is eating the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables per day.
In they end, the updated guidelines rarely offer any surprises to those who care to pay attention to such things. They do however, get health professionals all talking the same talk, if not splitting hairs over fat-free versus low-fat.