USDA, HHS reject sugar, alcohol cuts in updated dietary guidelines | 2020-12-29

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Two federal agencies charged with updating the nation’s nutrition guidance every five years have completed their work and are suggesting a broad approach to achieving healthy dietary patterns.

The new 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, announced today in a prerecorded event by officials from the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, include a instructive catchphrase to “make every bite count.” The new framework largely resembles the previous doctrine announced in the waning days of the Obama administration but also stops short of including a key committee recommendation to reduce intake of added sugars.

“If there’s one thing we know from the new dietary guidelines, it is that good food leads to good health,” Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue said in the rollout.

The guidelines suggest added sugars should account for less than 10% of an individual’s daily calories beginning at age two and should be avoided prior to that age. In the scientific report prepared earlier this year by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which reviews the previous science and suggests changes to USDA and HHS, an added sugar reduction to 6% was suggested, as was a reduction in alcohol intake to one drink per day for both men and women on days when alcohol is consumed (the previous guidance for men was two drinks).

But in the announcement event, an official with USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion said there wasn’t enough science to back up such reductions.

“The evidence that committee reviewed supports the need to continue to limit intakes of added sugars and alcoholic beverages to promote health and prevent disease,” the FNS official said Tuesday. “However, there was not a preponderance of evidence in the committee’s review of studies since the 2015-2020 edition to substantiate changes to the quantitative limits for either added sugars or alcohol at this time.

“USDA and HHS encourage continued research on these topics and plan to monitor these in the future.”

The guidelines — updated every five years to incorporate new science — include three key revisions: New language on the health risks on diet-related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, an expanded look at dietary patterns, and more information on nutrition needs throughout an individual’s life span.

The guidelines also include broad recommendations intended to suit “personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations.”

“To avoid being prescriptive, the Dietary Guidelines provides a framework based on food groups and subgroups rather than recommending individual foods or beverages,” an administration official said. “This framework is intended to be customized to individual needs and preferences, as well as the food ways of the diverse cultures in the United States.”

Generally, the guidelines recommend higher intake of nutrient-dense foods and beverages and a focus on staying within calorie limits to achieve healthy dietary patterns at various stages of life. USDA and HHS suggest a “healthy dietary pattern” is one rich in vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, lean meats and other forms of protein like beans, peas, and lentils, and oils such as vegetable oils and oils found in food like seafood and nuts.

The guidelines also recommend a lesser intake of added sugars, saturated fats, sodium, and alcoholic beverages across the broad spectrum of an individual’s diet.

The 2020-2025 edition is also the first to include nutrition advice for infants from birth to 24 months of age. In the guidelines, USDA and HHS conclude following good dietary practices at that age can reduce the risk of obesity, and lower risks of type 1 diabetes, iron deficiency, peanut allergies, and asthma. The committee recommended that children under age 2 consume no added sugars at all.

The guidelines form the framework for everything from nutrition infomercials to school lunches and are based on recommendations from the DGAC as well as the consideration of public comments. The 2020-2025 edition rolled out Tuesday is now set to serve as the nation’s official dietary guidance for the next five years.

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