New USDA Dietary Guidelines: Understanding a Complex Puzzle

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The guidelines are just that, simple tips and pointers from the USDA says Joy Musselman, Nutrition Manager at McKay-Dee Hospital.

“In essence a lot of things stayed the same with these new guidelines,” she says. “The prescription for a healthy diet hasn’t changed even though new guidelines were released. But these new guidelines do have some different things they emphasize.”

One item the new guidelines promote is less total fat intake with emphasis on total cholesterol and trans fats.

“We know that trans fats are detrimental to our health,” says Musselman. “So that is no surprise, and saturated fats continue to be correlated with heart disease. So the dietary guidelines suggest that we continually limit those to lessen the risks of heart related problems.”

One change that was added this year is new recommendations limiting sugars. This can be confusing though because many foods have sugars occurring in them naturally.

“When they (USDA) refer to added sugars, they are talking about sugars that don’t occur naturally in foods, says Musselman.

“Fruit and milk have natural sugars in them, but these are not the sugars that the USDA is referring to in the guidelines. They are addressing sugars that are added in the creation of a food product.”

Musselman says the added sugars that the USDA is referring to are not the same as those occurring naturally in foods.

“The difficulty with added sugars is that they are difficult to distinguish on a food label. It’s hard to distinguish what sugar is added and what is naturally in foods. Take for instance a box of raisin bran. The natural sugar in the raisins is different from the added sugar to the flakes, but the label on the box lists them both as sugar. Hopefully these new guidelines can help the labeling process to determine good sugars from added sugars.”

She says that following healthy eating habits and avoiding high sugar foods is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy diet.

“The guidelines are pretty consistent with MyPlate. So if your plate is half way filled with vegetables and fruit and has a quarter reserved for grains and a quarter reserved for proteins then you are following the prescription for a healthy diet.”