I think it's important that they discuss limiting trans fats and added sugars, in line with the WHO recommendations. Trans fats have been proven to increase LDL (bad cholesterol) and decrease HDL (good cholesterol) putting people at risk for clogged arteries, and thus increased risk of stroke and heart disease.
Most of the added sugars we eat in our diet come from sugar-sweetened beverages, and unfortunately the guidelines don't highlight just how severe the problem is or that we need to be avoiding soda. In addition, we also need to avoid fruit juices that contain added sugars as these are also contributing to the obesity epidemic. It is recommended that only 10% of our calories come from added sugars. That is 200 calories in the standard 2,000 calorie diet recommended for the average American.
However, the American Heart Association recommends that women only consume 6 tsp a day of added sugar (~100 calories) and men consume a maximum of 9 tsp a day (~150 calories). That means that one 12-ounce can of coca cola exceeds the recommended limit for men at a whopping 160 calories of added sugar! We aren’t just consuming one coke a day, though. In fact, according to a cross-sectional study of U.S. residents, we are consuming 76.7 grams of added sugar per day. That’s a total of 19 teaspoons or 306 calories a day! Well above the recommended intake by both the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and the AHA. If we calculate this consumption for the whole year, the average American is consuming over 60 pounds of added sugar a year. So even if the dietary guidelines don’t want to explicitly state it, we have a sugar problem.
While I think it's helpful for some people to put it in numbers, it can become confusing for the general population. For this reason, I think it's important to outline specific foods that should be avoided and specific ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oil that should be avoided if seen on food labels. Hopefully it will become easier for the population to limit sugar intake, if the FDA passes the proposed new separate label on food products that specifies the grams of added sugar in a product, separate from the total amount of sugar. This would help consumers be able to distinguish between foods that are high in added sugar.
It’s important to note that not all sugar is created equal and it’s not fair to cast out all sugar as being bad. This is why it’s important to emphasize eating a piece of fruit instead of drinking fruit juice for a serving of fruit. The piece of fruit contains fiber which slows down the digestion and absorption of the fruit and the release of sugar into our bloodstream, keeping us full longer. However, the problem with sugar-sweetened beverages it that they lack fiber and our satiety (fullness) mechanisms aren’t turned on when we consume the beverages. This causes us to overeat (or rather, over-drink) these beverages, putting us in a positive energy balance and contributing to our obesity epidemic. For this reason, the U.S. dietary guidelines really should’ve stressed: Thirsty? Drink a glass of water. If we can replace the added sugars from our beverage intake, especially among children, we’ll be well on our way to improving the obesity problem in the U.S.
The guidelines also failed to acknowledge the source of limiting sodium and saturated fats. Limiting sodium at the dinner table isn't going to make a major impact in decreasing rates of hypertension. It's avoiding the processed foods, specifically meats and fast food items, that are loaded with salt for taste. As the CDC states, more than 75% of sodium in our diet is coming from processed and restaurant foods. Therefore, the recommendation that should've been included in the new dietary guidelines is how to avoid sodium, without being afraid to list franchises and specific products.
In addition, the guidelines recommended that teenage and adult men decrease protein consumption (see charts below), but don’t specify how. This is due to pressures from the meat industry. Originally, the guidelines were going to include a recommendation to decrease meat consumption, but this was taken out in the final edition.
Overall, I think the guidelines are moving in the right direction, but were too afraid to step deep into their recommendations. Yes fruits and vegetables and whole grains and protein are important, but from locally grown sources when possible.
If we can cut out the processed foods from the beginning, such as when students first enter school or by educating parents about how to eat well at a low-cost, we may be able to prevent heart disease and other chronic diseases that are costing our healthcare hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
That’s all for now! Stay tuned for my mythbuster post next week!
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