In the American Heart Association’s quest to help Americans build healthier lives, promoting healthy eating habits is a key strategy. Because nutrition recommendations are based on the best evidence available, they shift over time. As we gather more evidence and use new research techniques, we get an increasingly clearer picture of what a healthy diet should look like.
One of the most important sources of nutrition guidance for our country is the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs). By law, this document is updated every 5 years. It is jointly published by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA). The DGAs give us advice about what to eat for optimal health, according to the latest science.
The DGAs are used for much more than just educating the public about healthy eating. They help the federal government set nutrition standards for school meals, child care centers, and food assistance programs. Federal food and nutrition education programs are based on the DGAs. They also impact the information provided by nutrition facts panels and other nutrition labeling on food packages. Doctors, dietitians, and other healthcare providers use the guidelines as the basis for the nutrition guidance they provide to patients. As you can see, the guidelines have a broad impact.
How do these guidelines come to be? In the first stage of the process, the government appoints a committee of the nation’s top experts in nutrition and chronic disease prevention. This group is called the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The committee reviews the previous edition of the DGAs as well as any new evidence that’s been published in the meantime. They also hear from expert guest speakers and consider oral and written comments from the public. The committee then writes a scientific report with its recommendations and submits it to the federal government.
Today, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report to the federal government was released to the public. The report emphasized an overall healthy eating pattern with lower levels of salt, saturated fat, and added sugars than Americans’ current diets. It described a healthy eating pattern as rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish/seafood, legumes (such as chickpeas or kidney beans), and nuts; moderate in non- and low-fat dairy products and alcohol; lower in red and processed meats; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains (i.e., grains that are stripped of some of their nutrients and thus are not whole grains). Overall, the American Heart Association says that the report’s recommendations are a shift in the right direction, and if accepted by HHS and USDA, will help steer the public toward a more heart-healthy path in their daily diets.
Over the rest of this year, HHS and USDA will use the advisory committee’s science report to create the final 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They will also consider comments from others in the government and from the public as they develop the final report. Stay tuned to this blog learn more about what the final guidelines will say, and what they will mean for your food choices.
What do you think? Do government nutrition guidelines influence the food choices you make for yourself or your family?