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New Dietary Guidelines Leave Sugar, Alcohol Limits Intact

January 11th, 2021

For good health eat more fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Get your protein from poultry, beans, nuts and lean meat. Limit your sugar to less than 10% of your daily calories and don’t have more than 2 alcoholic drinks a day – 1 if you’re a woman.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s what we’ve been told for years, and now will hear for 5 more years.

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Just before New Year’s, the US Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services issued the latest edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines are issued every 5 years. This one is not much different from the 2015 edition, though a number of scientists, physicians and dietitians say at least in a few places it should be.

For the first time, dietary guidelines for infants and toddlers, breastfeeding mothers and mothers-to-be are included

Infants should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months. Then, the guidelines say, they “should be introduced to nutrient-dense, developmentally appropriate foods to complement human milk or infant formula feedings.”

The guidelines unambiguously declare that for infants and young children there is “virtually no room in their diet for added sugars.”

Controversy arose, however, over the sugar – and alcohol – limits for everyone else.

Despite a strong recommendation from the government’s advisory committee to limit added sugar to no more than 6% of daily calories and alcohol to one a day, the USDA and HSS decided to retain the 2015 guideline of 10% and retain the 2 and 1 drink limits, explaining in a press release there was “not a preponderance of evidence… to support specific changes.”

Elizabeth J. Mayer-Davis, who chaired the advisory committee’s beverages and added sugars subcommittee, told The Wall Street Journal that rejecting the 6% recommendation was “a lost opportunity for a stronger public health message.”

The decision not to reduce the 2 drink limit for men “is very disappointing,” said Nigel Brockton, vice president of research at the American Institute for Cancer Research . “The evidence for cancer is so overwhelming.”

Throughout, the guidelines do emphasize a need for Americans to limit their sugar intake and in the section on alcoholic beverages the report says, “Evidence indicates that, among those who drink, higher average alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of death from all causes compared with lower average alcohol consumption.”

Beyond those issues, the guidelines detail what a nutrient rich menu looks like and provides some examples of meals that meet the dietary recommendations.

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