A group of heavy-hitting health experts have just created a brand new set of recommendations for the best way to eat. Called the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and issued every five years by the USDA, the advice lays out the pattern of eating that's shown in research to be the best for health. This year's guidelines include a few new recommendations:
Cut way back on sugar: For the first time ever, the Dietary Guidelines give a specific recommendation: Less than 10 percent of your calories should come from added sugar each day (the kind put in by manufacturers, not the natural kind in fruit and milk). For grown-ups, that's a max of 12 teaspoons of added sugar. For kids 4-8, no more than 8 teaspoons; toddlers, no more than six. Americans of every age group are getting too much, and sugary drinks, snacks, and sweets are the main culprits. Also important: The committee advises against replacing added sugar with artificial sweeteners—and instead, simply choosing healthier options (like water instead of diet soda).
How: Serve water or milk with meals and snacks. Treat sugar-sweetened drinks as you would dessert. Go "half-sies" to cut the sugar in your child's favorites by 50 percent, like combining plain and flavored yogurts and plain and chocolate milk (get more ideas here).
Don't stress about cholesterol: Though the Dietary Guidelines have traditionally included a recommended limit on cholesterol, the latest version doesn't. Why? Research isn't conclusive that the cholesterol in foods has a negative impact on blood cholesterol levels.
How: Some foods that are naturally rich in cholesterol are also packed with nutrients—like eggs, lobster, shrimp, and lamb—so don't avoid those foods because you've heard they're high in cholesterol.
Focus on the big picture: The new guidelines stress the importance of the overall pattern of your diet, not the bite-by-bite nutrients. Unfortunately, our current pattern needs to go, since we're getting too much added sugar and sodium and not enough fruits and vegetables.
How: Don't crunch numbers or stress over the exact number of servings each day. Instead, think broadly: Does your family snack on fruits and veggies more than chips and cookies? Are most of your grains whole? Are most of the beverages you serve unsweetened?
Though the draft of the Dietary Guidelines released early last year included a recommendation to eat less meat, the final version didn't include it (some think the USDA caved to pressure from the meat industry to take it out). The guidelines do say that eating patterns that include lower intakes of meats and processed meats are associated with lower risk for conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. It also says that teen boys and men tend to eat more meat, poultry, and eggs than needed and should shift to eating less—and including more vegetables.
What stayed the same: The new Dietary Guidelines still recommend getting at least half of your grains as whole grains. They also advise choosing low-fat or non-fat dairy products, getting plenty of fruits and vegetables, and limiting sodium and saturated fat.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.