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The Only Things You Need To Know About the New Dietary Guidelines

Experts may argue about low carb diets and saturated fat; understanding the issues can make you healthier.

 Danita Delimont/Getty Images
Danita Delimont/Getty Images,

by Sarah Mahoney

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Every five years, the U.S. government updates its dietary guidelines, making new suggestions for how America should be eating. The just-released suggestions are based, as always, on exhaustive advice from experts around the country, drawing on hundreds of scientific studies. Parsing the guidelinesfor smart, simple dietary changes can reveal greatways to enhance your health.

In some ways, there are few surprises: We should be eating more vegetables, drinking more water, and cutting back on sugar.

One of the most surprising aspects of the guidelines is that they say it’s okay to consume processed meats in moderation, even after the World Health Organization last year pronounced processed meat carcinogenic, comparing them to arsenic and tobacco. The guidelines also backtracked on suggestions that all of us eat less meat, despite WHO’s evidence that red meat is “probably” a carcinogen, and definitively linked to pancreatic and prostate cancer.

“This failure to embrace decades of research with the potential to save thousands of American lives represents a missed opportunity,” writes American Institute of Cancer Research Vice-President for Research Susan Higginbotham Ph.D., RD. Despite all the evidence that diets high in red meat are “convincingly linked to colorectal cancer… once again, the Guidelines instruct Americans only to `choose lean meats.’”

While the experts argue, is there a clear take-away if you’re just trying to clean up your diet? Absolutely. Here’s advice that most nutrition experts say we can take to the bank. 

About three-quarters of us don’t eat the recommended servings of vegetables, fruits, dairy and oils, so try to add more veggies.

Eat more of the good stuff About three-quarters of us don’t eat the recommended servings of vegetables, fruits, dairy and oils, so try to add more veggies (especially those that are dark green, red and orange); legumes; whole fruits; whole grains; and canola, olive, peanut, sunflower and soybean oils. Fat-free and low-fat dairy products should also be on your list.

Cut sugar intake to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. That translates to about 12.5 teaspoons, a big challenge since most of us now eat 20 teaspoons of some form of sugar per day.

Aim for 10 percent or less of daily calories from saturated fats. Meat, butter, cheese and ice cream are all major contributors. (The American Heart Association’s recommendations are even more stringent, suggesting these should account for no more than 7 percent of the day’s total calories. Check out its handy suggestions for substitutes.)

Watch your booze intake. One drink per day for women is considered healthy, and two drinks for men.

Eat less meat. Finally, even if you’re a long way from swearing off meat, limiting the amount you eat is a good idea. Cancer aside, it’s a pressing environmental concern: Experts estimate that agricultural contributes about 30 percent of global emissions, and livestock is responsible for half of those.

For more easy-to-adopt health eating tips, check out Life Reimagined’s Choose To Eat Healthier program.