- Americans are still consuming excessively high amounts of sugar, sodium, and saturated fats. The deficiency of essential nutrients such as vitamin D, calcium, potassium, fiber and iron is also a concern.
- The worst foods in American diet include burgers, sandwiches, tacos, pizza, desserts, sweet snacks, and sugary drinks. These contribute significantly to sodium, saturated fat, and sugar consumption.
- Contrary to previous beliefs, dietary cholesterol intake has been found to have no direct connection to blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fat is the primary contributor to high cholesterol. Also, moderate coffee consumption (3-5 cups per day) is not harmful, and may even offer health benefits.
- American diets are high in “empty calories.” Implementing taxes on foods high in sugar and salt could encourage consumers to reduce consumption, and revenue from these taxes could support health promotion efforts.
- The report suggests dietary patterns similar to the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet, which centre around high consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, seafood, nuts, olives, and other healthy fats, while limiting processed and red meat, sugars and refined flour.
Changing your daily eating regimen can reduce your sugar, saturated fat, and sodium intake. This includes reducing consumption of sweet sodas and snacks, high fat sources such as red meats and butter, and decreasing your salt use. It is also emphasized that regular consumption of fruits and vegetables is important. There are mixed opinions on certain foods, such as eggs and coffee, but they still remain part of balanced breakfast.
Analysis of U.S. Dietary Guidelines
The experts who contribute to shaping the U.S. official dietary guidelines appear to maintain the previous rules set in 2010. Connie Diekman, a Director of University Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis indicated that the report’s strength is in the reinforcement of the previous findings.
The recent findings of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reveal that Americans are still consuming excessively high amounts of sugar, sodium, and saturated fats. This in turn escalates their likelihood of contracting serious and life-threatening diseases.
The deficiency of essential nutrients such as vitamin D, calcium, potassium, fiber and iron in the American diet is another issue of concern. A consistent message from the committee can offer a useful reference to those Americans who are interested in eating a balanced diet, but struggle with the ever changing dietary advices.
Diekman pointed out, “What the committee has recommended is what the current science supports.” The facts are clear – Americans are consuming too much added sugars and saturated fats. “We need to shift to more plant-based foods if we aim to lower our risk of diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity,” she added.
Unhealthiest Foods in the American Diet
The committee found that the worst foods in American diet include burgers, sandwiches, tacos, pizza, desserts, sweet snacks, and sugary drinks. Foods like burgers, tacos, pizza referred to as “mixed dishes” in the report contribute to the majority of sodium and saturated fat in the American diet. These dishes represent 44 percent and 38 percent of Americans’ sodium and saturated fat intake respectively.
Snacks like cakes and sweets contribute to 31 percent of added sugars and 18 percent of saturated fat intake. Surprisingly, sugary drinks are a significant source of added sugars, accounting for around 47 percent of the total intake.
Dispelling Common Food Myths
Despite popular concerns, the committee report notes that some foods are not as harmful as they were previously thought:
- The previous Dietary Guidelines’ restriction on cholesterol intake of 300 milligrams per day, roughly equivalent to one and a half eggs, is recommended to be lifted. The committee found no direct connection between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol levels. Instead, saturated fats were determined to be the main contributors to high cholesterol.
- Consuming three to five cups of coffee per day does not pose any long-term health risks. On the contrary, moderate coffee drinking could potentially lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Thus, moderate coffee consumption can be incorporated into a healthy dietary routine, along with other healthful behaviors.
Sugar Consumption in America
Despite a decrease in added sugar in diets over the past decade, the committee found that Americans are still consuming too many “empty calories.” The report suggests that taxing foods with extra-high levels of sugar and salt could motivate consumers to reduce consumption. The generated revenue could then support health promotion efforts.
Healthy “Lifestyle” Diets
The report suggests following dietary patterns similar to the Mediterranean diet or the “DASH” (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. While these diets vary in some respect, they all advocate for high consumption of fruits and vegetables, substantial intake of whole grains, and a decent amount of low-fat dairy. They also recommend limiting red and processed meat consumption, while increasing intake of poultry and seafood, along with nuts, olives and other sources of healthy fats. Avoidance of foods made with lots of sugar or refined flour is also strongly recommended.
This report will provide the basis for the updated 2015 Dietary Guidelines set to be released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture later in the year. These guidelines will offer practical advice tailored to the needs of individuals.
“We won’t know if they make any changes to recommended portions until the guidelines come out,” Diekman shared.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s Report
You can read the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.