New Dietary Guidelines Crack Down On Sugar. But Red Meat Gets A Pass : The Salt An advisory panel had recommended telling Americans to cut back on red and processed meats. But that controversial advice is missing from the update to the government's official nutrition guidelines.
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New Dietary Guidelines Crack Down On Sugar. But Red Meat Gets A Pass

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New Dietary Guidelines Crack Down On Sugar. But Red Meat Gets A Pass


It's that time of year when lots of us are resolving to eat healthier. I know I am. And this morning, there is new dietary guidance out from the federal government. The U.S. dietary guidelines are updated every five years and are considered the government's official advice on what Americans should be eating. NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us now to talk about them. Good morning.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So tell us what has changed in these new guidelines? What's different than five years ago?

AUBREY: Well, a key issue is right here in front of me. It's sugar. Americans eat way too much of it. I've got...

MONTAGNE: Wait. Wait. You're holding yogurt there.

AUBREY: Yes, right. I've got this little tub.

MONTAGNE: That's healthy.

AUBREY: Right, we consider yogurt a healthy food. But I'm looking at the label here. This has nearly 20 grams of sugar, which is five teaspoons - about five teaspoons. So a key recommendation out today in these new guidelines is to eat less. Now, this may not seem new. We've already been given this advice to, you know, cut back. But many Americans are eating, by some estimates, an average of about 22 teaspoons a day. And over the last five years, there's been a lot of new scientific evidence showing that this amount increases the risk not only of type 2 diabetes but also of heart disease, even among people who are not overweight or obese.

MONTAGNE: And how much - or really, how little sugar should we be eating?

AUBREY: Right, how little is the key. The new guideline calls for limiting sugar to no more than 10 percent of our daily calories. So that translates, depending on how many calories you eat a day, to about 10 to 12 teaspoons a day. So this means for many Americans cutting sugar consumption in half. Now, I should be clear here that we're not talking about intrinsic sugars, those that are found naturally in fruits and milk and vegetables. It's all the sugar that gets added to foods.

MONTAGNE: OK, less sugar.

AUBREY: That's right.

MONTAGNE: What else from these new and presumably different guidelines?

AUBREY: That's right. Well, one noticeable change is that these new guidelines really focus on healthy patterns of eating and emphasize getting more variety into your diet. So for instance, instead of coming out and saying, eat less red meat, the message now in these new guidelines is to make small shifts. They use that phrase a lot, to make small shifts to alternative sources of protein, for instance, seafood, beans, nuts. Now, I have to say, this is a bit controversial because last year, the advisory committee of nutrition experts that was tasked with sort of making recommendations on what to include in these guidelines, this committee came out and said, Americans should be told to eat less red meat. But this is not what the guidelines say. There's no specific recommendation to cut back on red or processed meats. Now, of course, the meat industry is pleased with this. Their reaction this morning is that these new dietary guidelines are, quote, "affirming that meat is part of a healthy diet." But on the other hand, I've already heard from two researchers this morning who are disappointed. They say the guidelines should have included specific limits on red and processed meats.

MONTAGNE: Well, how likely are Americans, do you think, to pay attention to any of this advice?

AUBREY: Well, you know, if past is prologue, I don't think that too many Americans are going to be paying a lot of attention. If you look, for instance, at the recommendations on fruit and vegetable consumption, which is to eat, you know, several cups' worth every day, the percentage of Americans following this advice is very low. For some age groups - for instance, teenagers - it's in the single digits. Americans also way over-eat refined carbs or refined grains but don't get enough of the whole grains. So as a culture, you know, we have a long way to go. But I think that this doesn't mean that the dietary guidelines are not important. The guidelines help shape federal programs, such as the school lunch program and the WIC program that helps feed at-risk mothers and their children. And I should point out that these guidelines are only a small part of a much bigger public health effort to get people to eat healthier.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Allison Aubrey. Thanks very much.

AUBREY: Thanks, Renee.

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