Health: Feds say eat less meat

What's the energy footprint on your dinner plate? @bberwyn photo.
Lots of veggies and a little fish makes for a healthy meal. @bberwyn photo.

New dietary guidelines point out health benefits reducing red meat consumption

Staff Report

For the first time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a new set of dietary guidelines calling on Americans — especially men — to cut back at least a bit on consumption of red meat.

The new guidelines were greeted as a positive step by environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, which said in a release that cutting meat consumption is not only good for public health, but benefits the environment by reducing climate and water pollution from the meat industry.

The report advises that cutting back on meat can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. Read the new guidelines here.The NRDC also pointed out that the new dietary advice does not include the recommendation from the agencies’ expert scientific advisors that the FDA explicitly link the science-based benefits of adopting diets lower in red meat, and higher in plant-based foods, to additional benefits to environment sustainability and to food security.

The recommendations are revised every five years to guide food purchasing for the federal school lunch program and form the basis for federal nutrition policy. They will also help inform the dietary advice and information delivered by public health and nutrition experts to the general public.

“Eating less red meat is good for all of us and good for the planet,” said NRDC health expert Erik Olson.We have long known that meat has supersized impacts not only on our health, but on the environment, from intensive use of water to massive greenhouse gas pollution.”

Here’s how the USDA described the new guidelines in a press release:

“The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is one of many important tools that help to support a healthier next generation of Americans,” said Secretary Vilsack. “The latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines provides individuals with the flexibility to make healthy food choices that are right for them and their families and take advantage of the diversity of products available, thanks to America’s farmers and ranchers.”

The specific recommendations fit into five overarching guidelines in the new edition:

  • 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 amount
  • 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

Healthy eating patterns include 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.

Importantly, the guidelines suggest Americans should consume:

  • A variety of vegetables, including dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy and other vegetables
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products, and nuts and seeds
  • Oils, including those from plants: canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower. Oils also are naturally present in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives, and avocados.

Further, Americans should be encouraged to consume:

  • Less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars. ChooseMyPlate.gov provides more information about added sugars, which are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. This does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those consumed as part of milk and fruits.
  • Less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats. The Nutrition Facts label can be used to check for saturated fats. Foods that are high in saturated fat include butter, whole milk, meats that are not labeled as lean, and tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil.
  • Less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium for people over the age of 14 years and less for those younger. The Nutrition Facts label is a helpful tool to check for sodium, especially in processed foods like pizza, pasta dishes, sauces, and soups.

Based on a review of current scientific evidence on nutrition, the 2015 edition includes updated guidance on topics such as added sugars, sodium, and cholesterol and new information on caffeine. For example, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines is the first edition to recommend a quantitative limit to consume less than 10 percent of calories from added sugars. This edition also reaffirms guidance about the core building blocks of a healthy lifestyle that have remained consistent over the past several editions, and suggests there is still work to be done to encourage more Americans to follow the recommendations outlined in the Dietary Guidelines.

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