What’s on the Menu Now for a Healthier Diet?

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee released its recommendations for Americans. Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD, breaks down the recommendations and what they mean for the American diet.

What’s new in nutrition?

Carolyn O’Neil:

Well, the exact recipe for good health keeps changing as nutrition science evolves. The tough job of following the science and translating the latest and greatest into nutrition recommendations is the task given to health expert members of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee every five years.


It’s no surprise that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found that Americans are not eating enough vegetables and are consuming too much sugar, salt and saturated fat. But the devil’s in the diet details. The report states that overall, nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population did not meet daily vegetable intake recommendations. Yikes!


The proposal is over 500 pages long, but the committee provided this summary statement:


“The U.S. population should be encouraged and guided to consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and non-fat dairy products and alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains. These dietary patterns can be achieved in many ways and should be tailored to the individual’s biological and medical needs as well as socio-cultural preferences.” — Excerpt from the Executive Summary of the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report.

Did the report mention any specific foods and food categories?

Carolyn O’Neil:

Cholesterol-containing foods got a reprieve. Foods such as eggs and shrimp, according to the committee’s round-up of research, are not the villain in raising blood cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, saturated fats found in animal products (such as beef, bacon, and whole milk) figure strongly in the stuff we’re supposed to avoid. Bottom line: Don’t hold the mayo. But, limit burgers and cream.


Farmed and wild fish are both recommended as sources of good nutrition, and the health benefits of eating fish outweigh the impact of potential environmental contaminants. Bottom line: Eat more fish for good health.


Coffee was given a clean bill of health if consumed in moderate range (3 to 5 cups per day or up to 400 mg/d caffeine) and associated with reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes. Bottom line: Enjoy your java but limit the sugar and cream.


Sustainability is addressed for the first time in the 2015 advisory committee report. More plant foods in the diet are encouraged to improve sustainability of the food supply but the committee included this statement, “Of note is that no food groups need to be eliminated completely to improve sustainability outcomes over the current status.”


How we eat is part of the focus, too. The committee recommends the dietary guidelines include recommendations to increase physical activity, decrease screen time, and encourage family meals and self-monitoring of body weight to improve optimal health related to dietary habits.

What’s the next step in getting these recommendations finalized?

Carolyn O’Neil:

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendations of things to eat and drink for good health has been released and delivered to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to help federal nutrition officials decide on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That report is expected later this year.


In the meantime, expect to see and hear a lot of table talk about the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report, as the release on February 19th signals the start of a 45-day public comment period. Nutrition and health experts, food producers and consumers are invited to hash out what they think is good, bad or potentially confusing at www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines.