Dietitian Jessica Corwin, a community nutrition educator at Spectrum Health Healthier Communities, prepares a "One Dish Italian Skillet" during her "Farm to Fork Cooking Series" class.
Dietitian Jessica Corwin, a community nutrition educator at Spectrum Health Healthier Communities, prepares a “One Dish Italian Skillet” during her “Farm to Fork Cooking Series” class. She gives us the skinny on the new dietary guidelines and what they mean for our health. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)

Did you hear the news? Now that we have entered 2016, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines have graced us with their presence.

The proposed guidelines were filled with controversial recommendations, including a push for a more sustainable, plant-based diet (similar to that of the Mediterranean diet).

Sadly, to countless health professionals’ chagrin, the more outspoken recommendations did not make it through. Instead, we have been greeted with more of the same when it comes to American food and nutrition guidelines.

But, in order to save you the hours of reading, I’ve done the dirty work for you. Read on to get the scoop.

The basic advice

First of all, let’s review the basic recommendations, which have largely remained the same since 2010.

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. Eating patterns are the combination of foods and drinks that a person eats over time.
  • Focus on variety, nutrient-dense foods, and the amounts.
  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake.
  • Shift to healthier food and beverage choices.
  • Support healthy eating patterns for all.

Umm… wait, what exactly is a “healthy eating pattern”?

  • “(…) a variety of nutritious foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy, lean meats and other protein foods and oils, while limiting saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars and sodium. A healthy eating pattern is adaptable to a person’s taste preferences, traditions, culture and budget.”

In other words, more foods straight from Mother Nature, less from Burger King.

More specifically, here is how that translates in terms of food:

  • Eat the rainbow.
    • A variety of vegetables, including dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy and other vegetables
    • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Make half of your grains whole.
  • Don’t forget dairy, whether from an animal or plant. Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages. Just read the label to ensure it has calcium and vitamin D.
  • Pack your protein. A variety of protein foods such as seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products, and nuts and seeds are all included.
  • Choose healthier fats. Essentially this includes oils primarily from plants (canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean and sunflower). Oils also are naturally present in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives and avocados.

The healthy highlights

  • Veg out on veggies. No surprise here, but the report reminds us that the majority of Americans are lacking in iron, vitamins and minerals, potassium and fiber. Another non-shocker? Our primary veggie intake stems from potatoes and tomatoes—hello, fries and ketchup. Just mix things up. Picture your favorite salad and swap out your iceberg lettuce for baby spinach or add a handful to your morning smoothie. Try baked sweet potato fries for something different, coat them with egg whites for a protein pop. You could also add them to a simple dish with greens and chicken sausage for a unique flavor mix. Or just set out a vegetable appetizer tray during the pre-dinner hour when everyone seems to be starving. We tend to eat with our eyes, am I right? Sugar snap peas, crinkle-cut carrots, bell pepper rings, and celery sticks displayed next to a variety of Greek yogurt based dips … who can resist?
  • Enjoy your eggs. Although this ‘change’ remains from 2010’s advice, dietary cholesterol is no longer limited, which is great news for those looking to cut costs on their grocery or calorie budgets. Did you know incredible eggs are just 25 cents each and 70 calories, with 13 essential vitamins and minerals, protein and antioxidants to boot? Still, this advice is not free rein to eat a dozen eggs each week, rather four (double previous limits).
  • Go easy on the coconut oil. Saturated fat is still advised to be limited for a healthy heart and, yes, that does include the ever-so-popular coconut oil. If you’re not ready to give it up, just be sure you are serving it in place of a less healthy saturated or trans fat (such as butter or lard).
  • Shake the salt—kids included. The goal remains to consume less than 2,300 mg sodium for people older than 14 and even less for those younger. At least in the dietary guidelines, that is. The seemingly more standard clinical advice is and remains a tighter 1,500 mg for anyone at risk of heart disease, those older than age 51 and African Americans. Still, it is nice to see that our kiddos are now being recognized as being at risk for a high sodium diet. (This is something health experts have long been aware of. See my take on the topic here.)
  • You’re sweet enough. We all seem to be getting more than enough sugar in our diets, added sugars in particular (meaning those not found in fruit or dairy). Limit added sugars to less than 10 percent of your total daily intake. In other words, if you eat/drink 2,000 calories in a single day, 10 percent translates as 200 calories or 50 grams of sugar or about 13 teaspoons of added sugars (about a can of cola). Sounds tough, but this recommendation is still double that advised by the American Heart Association and even the World Health Organization admits that a tighter limit would offer greater health benefits. On the note of added sugars, the new guidelines do hint at the goal of cutting back on sugary drinks and artificial sweeteners as well. The advice is buried in the fine print as noted here, but is certainly sound advice to aim for.

Is that all?

One tip that seems to be missing is the advice to limit red and processed meats. Strange as we now know the two are proven carcinogens.

Check out this poignant response from the American Institute for Cancer Research.

To learn more, read the entire dietary guidelines release or, for a more consumer-friendly version, try this. For more family friendly advice on healthy living with Jessica Corwin, contribute to the conversation on Twitter.