What to Learn from the New 2015 Nutritional Guidelines

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The new nutritional guidelines from the United States departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture were recently released. These guidelines are updated every five years and provide Americans with new answers on what to eat and what not to eat. Each year, the guidelines carry a similar tone: Eat more fruits and vegetables, and cut down on foods high in salt, sugar and cholesterol. Yet a few things also changed this year.  If you’re interested in nutrition and its ties with public health, consider enrolling in the online Master of Public Health program at The University of Arizona. Courses in the program discuss health promotion at large and provide students with the critical thinking skills and perspective to assess such guidelines.  Here’s what you should know about the newest version.

They come with recommended diets

The average American may know some things about nutrition, but not much. So when the guidelines come out every five years, it can be difficult for people to truly understand the ramifications of what these health organizations are saying. Sure, people might understand the overall message, but applying it to everyday meals can be hard. On average, Americans consume much more than the recommended amounts of sodium, sugar, saturated fats and red meats. A large part of the reason why has to do with our diets. Now, the guideline writers have come to realize this and have included three recommended diets for Americans, so people can easily apply these suggestions to their meals each day. The three diets vary based on people’s lifestyles and preferences.

One recommended diet is the Mediterranean diet, which has been lauded by nutritionists for years. This diet focuses on sources of protein, vegetables and natural fats, and comes from foods grown in the Mediterranean region. The guidelines for this diet suggest that people who consume 2,000 calories a day get 2.5 cups of fruit, 6.5 ounces of protein and 2 cups of dairy in their daily consumption. The guidelines also recommend that when it comes to fruit, people choose real fruit over juices, which contain less nutrients such as fiber.

Another is simply known as the healthy American diet. It focuses largely on what people already eat, but moderates it to healthy sized portions and includes foods that are nutrient-packed. The guidelines, which recommend different portions based on gender and activity level, advise that people consuming an average of 2,000 calories a day should eat 2 cups of fruit a day, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 6 ounces of grains, 3 cups of dairy and 5.5 ounces of protein. The guidelines get into detail, suggesting that people eat whole grains such as whole-wheat products and low-fat dairy items.

The last is considered the vegetarian diet, and obviously caters to those who don’t eat meat. The guidelines suggest that based on a 2,000-calorie diet, vegetarians should eat 3.5 ounces of protein a day, which is much less than the other two diets. It also recommends 7 ounces of nuts and seeds and 8 ounces of soy to help replace the nutrients found in meat and fish. It advises that vegetarians are mindful of including two vegetables on their plate if one doubles as a protein, and notes that people in this group should eat more grains – 6.5 ounces worth.

They might not affect the school diet

Though these new guidelines call for change, they might not have any effect on the school cafeteria diet. One of the most notable guidelines from the new set was the recommendation to reduce sugar to 10 percent of a person’s total caloric intake. Ten percent approximately means no more than 10 teaspoons of sugar a day. On average, Americans consume close to 30 teaspoons daily.
Of course, sugar consumption can be even greater among children, even in a school environment. While policymakers have made active strides to improve school lunches, high amounts of sugar can still be found in many of the snacks and beverages offered by cafeterias nationwide. Right now, there are no sugar standards in place for schools, and that can be problematic. For instance, the average school breakfast contains more than half of the recommended daily amount of sugar. If a student chooses to have fruit juice, a cookie or some other sweet snack later in the day, he or she most likely going to exceed this new guideline.

Additionally, change tends to be slow in schools. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed in 2010, didn’t fully get implemented by schools until 2014. Some school nutritionists were critical of the reforms mentioned in the act, adamant that the students would refuse to eat the new meals. Aside from getting criticized by schools, the sugar industry most likely will not allow reform to prevent them from selling sweet products to children, their most popular consumers.

They seem to be missing a few things

While the guidelines focus on sugar and red meat reduction and suggest a greater intake of fruits and vegetables, they also missed a couple of things. The guidelines largely emphasize the need for adequate protein, calcium, fiber and vitamins A and C, but they overlooked a couple of critical nutrients too. None of the guidelines or diets mentioned the importance of including potassium and vitamin E, two nutrients that have proven to help the heart, nerves and muscles and tend to be deficient in Americans. Finding foods high in these nutrients, like potatoes, also can boost Americans’ diets.