2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines: How They Can Work for You

It’s a brand new year — a time for changes, new beginnings, and setting goals for yourself. And with the new year come the new 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released last week. In this newly revised edition of the recommendations, there are some changes that are worth knowing about, especially if you have diabetes and/or are aiming to reach a healthier weight.

What are the Dietary Guidelines?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are released every five years. They’re developed by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA). And while you may not give much thought to these guidelines, they’re used to promote overall health and prevent (not treat) chronic diseases in the U.S. (a rather lofty goal). More specifically, the Dietary Guidelines help to shape federal policies and programs related to food, nutrition, and health, such as the National School Lunch program.

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What they can mean for you
Frankly, most people probably never use or think about the Dietary Guidelines. And given the numerous controversies about nutrition in general, a lot of people (including those in the nutrition and health-care fields) don’t agree with them or dismiss them as being irrelevant or downright wrong. If, however, you have an interest in learning what they’re all about and perhaps how they might help you make some healthy lifestyle changes, here are some takeaways that may be of interest:

Limit sugar. OK, this is something that seems so obvious, and you’re likely doing this already. But it’s a big deal for these guidelines, which urge us to limit our intake of added sugars to no more than 10% of our daily calories. So if you consume 2,000 calories a day, 10% of those calories from sugar translates into roughly 50 grams of sugar.

Implications: A high sugar intake is linked with a higher risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, and obesity.

Tips: Gradually wean yourself off sugary treats, such as sodas, fruit juices, baked goods, cereals, and fruited yogurt, for example. Don’t forget that sugar is hidden in many foods, such as salad dressing, ketchup, and barbeque sauce, too, so check labels.

Say yes to eggs (and some other high-cholesterol foods). This is a big one: the guidelines have removed the restriction on dietary cholesterol (usually 300 milligrams per day).

Implications: Evidence just doesn’t support the link between eating high-cholesterol foods and heart disease. However, the guidelines do recommend putting a limit on high-cholesterol foods to some extent, as these foods may be high in saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease. So don’t throw away those egg yolks (they’re packed with nutrients, by the way, like choline, vitamin A, and vitamin D).

Tips: Eggs are an “egg-cellent” food to consume any time of day, not just at breakfast. One large egg has just 70 calories and no carbohydrate, making it a great choice for weight-watchers and those with diabetes, too.

Fit in protein. Again, nothing too new here, except that we should aim for at least 8 ounces of seafood each week, and emphasize eating other protein-rich foods from lean meat, poultry, and vegetable sources. The guidelines caution men and boys from overdoing protein, too.

Implications: Besides being an essential nutrient, protein plays a role in weight management in that an adequate intake helps to maintain lean muscle mass (which keeps your metabolism revved up). For those with prediabetes or diabetes, consuming a slightly higher-protein diet may help you better manage blood sugar levels, as well.

Tips: Aim to include a protein-rich food at each meal. Unless you need to restrict your protein intake, a good starting point is getting about 25–30 grams of protein per meal (for reference, 1 ounce of poultry, meat, or seafood contains about 7 grams of protein). Don’t overlook vegetable sources of protein, either, from beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, and nuts.

Follow a healthy eating pattern. Much emphasis is place on “healthy eating patterns” in these new guidelines. This term refers to the combination of foods and beverages you eat over time.

Implications: There’s less focus on specific nutrients in these guidelines; rather, the focus is placed on everything you eat and drink in totality. And the good news is that there’s room for different types of eating styles, including the Mediterranean style of eating, vegan and vegetarian diets, and lower-carb/higher-protein diets, too.

Tips: No matter your preferred style of eating, it’s still a good idea to aim for variety. No one food group will supply all of the nutrients you need. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats are keys to healthy eating.

Enjoy your java. These new guidelines state that “moderate coffee consumption,” (meaning, three to five 8-ounce cups of coffee per day, or up to 400 milligrams of caffeine) can be part of a healthy eating pattern.

Implications: Coffee has been exonerated from raising the risk of major chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. On the other hand, if you don’t already drink coffee, the guidelines don’t suggest that you start.

Tips: Watch what you put in your coffee. Loading it up with cream, nondairy creamers, and/or sugar isn’t so healthy for your waist or your blood sugars. And bypass the fancy high-calorie/fat/sugar drinks at Starbucks, too.

For more information about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, and to access them, visit http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/.

Looking to lose weight or sustain the strides you’ve made? Be sure to check out the new Weight Self-Management supplement to Diabetes Self-Management! Click here to get your hands on a copy!

What is it like to be a Type A mom with Type 1 diabetes who balances parenting an active toddler with the responsibilities of being a registered dietitian? Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to meet Regina Shirley and find out more!