Government Releases 2015 Dietary Guidelines: Progress on Nutrition, Sustainability Lacking

Fruit market with various colorful fresh fruits and vegetables via Shutterstock.com

Earlier today, the US Government released the finalized and long-overdue update to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. The guidelines are written every five years by officials from the USDA and HHS. They serve as the basis upon which the government makes key decisions surrounding food and nutrition programs and are meant to help American citizens make safe and healthy food choices. Overall, the new finalized guidelines share much in common with those from 2010, which also stress the importance of a balanced diet that includes ample fruits and vegetables.

Here are some significant changes in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines:

  • An emphasis on healthier eating patterns rather than just focusing on specific food groups.
  • A decrease in the recommended amount of added sugar and saturated fats intake from fifteen to ten percent of daily calories.
  • A removal of the cholesterol intake warning that for years has resulted in consumer anxiety around egg consumption. This shift is due to new research indicating that high levels of blood cholesterol thought to be caused by egg consumption are actually the result of diets high in saturated fats from fatty meats.

The original 2015 Dietary Guidelines were submitted to the secretaries of the USDA and HHS early last year but their passage into law was long stymied by controversies between consumer and industry groups. A key point of contention was the Dietary Guidelines advisory panel’s initial recommendations that the guidelines emphasize the importance of sustainable food choices and encourage consumers to eat less meat. Neither of these recommendations received explicit mentions in the final guidelines, largely due to aggressive lobbying from the meat industry. Consistent efforts on the part of factory farm commercial interests not only veil the public from numerous health and environmental concerns, they also eclipse the progress of sustainable meat producers.

Critics of the Guidelines' original inclusion of sustainability-oriented recommendations hold that environmental concerns lie outside of the scope of nutrition and dietary recommendations. However, we see clear risk in continuing to ignore the inherent relationship between what we eat and how it is produced. Moving forward in 2016, it’s vital for Americans to continue educating themselves not only about the nutritional values of their food, but about the broader context through which that food is brought to their plates.