WASHINGTON — The Obama administration unveiled new dietary guidelines on Thursday that called on Americans to cut down on meat, salt, and sweets but went easier on eggs than previous versions.
The new dietary guidelines recommend consuming less than 10 percent of one’s daily calories from added sugar — including that found in seemingly healthy foods, such as yogurt — and also saturated fat, a chief source of which is meat. Eating less meat is associated with reduced cases of heart disease and stroke, the report said.
The report also singled out teenaged boys and adult men as eating excessive meat and other proteins, and said they “need to reduce overall intake of protein foods by decreasing intakes of meats, poultry, and eggs and increasing amounts of vegetables or other underconsumed food groups.”
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But for many people, the report said, eggs are a good source of nutrition, and not as big a worry on cholesterol as previously believed.
The government wants you to eat more fruits and vegetables, as usual, and to work out more. The recommendation on sodium is now 2,300 milligrams per day for healthy adults and 1,500 milligrams per day for those with high blood pressure or those in danger of developing high blood pressure.
One difference is that category now includes two-thirds of the population. Back in 2010, that figure was 50 percent.
The federal government revamps the guidelines every five years. Consumers may follow or dismiss these recommendations for a healthy diet. But the food industry can’t ignore them: The heavily-lobbied report influences government policy on issues like subsidized school lunches and other assistance programs, as well as restaurant trends like the sudden appearance of kale on every plate or the banishment of the tuna sandwich.
The report comes at a tough time for the food industry. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration proposed revising food labels to note daily limits for added sugar. Next, the World Health Organization declared that red meat can cause cancer. Now comes the new warnings about meat and added sugar.
With US food industry sales estimated at $5.27 trillion last year, these are high stakes. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture jointly develop the report, and it’s a complex and contentious process. First, an advisory panel mostly made up of academics, some with close industry ties, weighs the latest nutrition research.
While doing this, they are besieged by advocates for every foodstuff and beverage, from MillerCoors to the US Dry Bean Council — all vying for prime space on “MyPlate,” the icon that replaced the old food pyramid. More than 220 people registered to lobby on the guidelines during 2015, with many more unregistered.
The advisors submitted their report in February, after which the real food fight began, with lawmakers vying to protect local industries, government officials weighing in, and as much battling over the science as a congressional hearing on climate change.
The advisory panel recommended adding sustainability as a factor in determining the ideal diet, but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack quickly nixed that plan as being out of the group’s jurisdiction, a move that disappointed environmentalists.
The new guidelines won’t necessarily change Americans’ eating habits. Michael Jacobson, president of Center for Science in the Public Interest, noted last month that “the fact that we started eating more added sugar just when experts told us to eat less is a clue. The nutrition scientists who do the long, hard slog of working out the details of official dietary advice might only dream of the life-altering powers now being attributed to them. The public has never eaten the diet they recommend, and still does not today.”
Ike Swetlitz contributed research to this story.