March 23, 2016

What nutrition experts think is missing from the new Dietary Guidelines

Vegetable & Fruit Heart

As published in the Washington Post, March 23, 2016

The heated debate surrounding the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines is over, and we’ve had time to explore them (and maybe even shift our food choices based on them). So how are they looking, nearly three months in? We asked some leading experts what they think: what’s missing, what they like and a pointer they think we should take to heart. Here’s what they said by email.

Portion control

What was missing: “Despite the fact that nearly 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, there was scant mention that typical portions are just too big. The fine print suggested reducing portions of sugary drinks and foods high in saturated fats.”

What she likes: “I’m pleased to see the focus on limiting calories from added sugars.”

Pointer: “Shift to eating right-size portions of healthier foods and beverages.”

— Lisa Young , registered dietitian nutritionist, adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University and author of “The Portion Teller Plan

Gut health

What was missing: “No mention is made of the impact of probiotics and healthy food choices on maintaining the right balance of beneficial gut bacteria, despite mounting studies linking gut health to improved immunity, mood, and weight control and disease prevention.”

What she likes: “The guidelines for the first time emphasized that we all have a vital role to play in our communities to create healthier environments. . . . If we can encourage a culture where the healthy choice is the easiest one in settings from day care to vending machines to your own home, that can take us a long way.”

Pointer: “Eat more beans and legumes (also called pulses). They’re low in cost, high in nutrition.”

— Carlene Thomas, registered dietitian, owner of Healthfully Ever After and president-elect of the Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Flavor and enjoyment

What was missing: “The guidelines dig deep into nutrients and the health consequences of unhealthy eating with nearly no mention of the taste, flavor and pure enjoyment of healthful eating.”

What she likes: “I do appreciate the strategy to achieve healthier eating by making ‘shifts’ instead of attempting drastic diets.”

Pointer: “Encourage school-aged children to participate in school meals. Right now, schools are the only place where meals actually follow the Dietary Guidelines.”

— Dayle Hayes, registered dietitian, child-nutrition expert and founder of School Meals That Rock


What was missing: “The [Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee] report recommended limiting red and processed meat and integrated sustainability in their rationale for doing so, but this didn’t surface in the guidelines.”

What she likes: “I was pleased to see three healthy eating patterns (Healthy U.S. Style, Healthy Mediterranean Style and Healthy Vegetarian) identified due to their evidence demonstrating health benefits and a role in helping people achieve an optimal weight.”

Pointer: “Learn to garden, cook and plan meals to eat healthier.”

— Sharon Palmer, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of “Plant-Powered for Life.

Vegetarian diets

What was missing: “Overall, these guidelines are the best yet. Even so, gaps prevail. The guidelines should have made clear that people who avoid meat and dairy products are far healthier than other people and that eating processed meats increases one’s risk of colon cancer.”

What he likes: “The guidelines reinstated the advice to eat as little cholesterol as possible and finally called out a vegetarian eating pattern as one of three healthy options.”

Pointer: “Draw your nutrition from vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes.”

— Neal D. Barnard, doctor and president of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Physical activity

What was missing: “Very few people we counsel exercise regularly or sufficiently. The guidelines didn’t emphasize the critical role of physical activity in healthy living and disease prevention enough.”

What she likes: “Attention to the perils of added sugars is well deserved, but now we need this information on the nutrition facts label.”

Pointer: “Build your meal-planning skills, and do it daily. It’s a critical piece of healthier eating.”

— Rebecca Bitzer, registered dietitian and president of Rebecca Bitzer & Associates

What not to eat

What was missing: “The DGAC report was outstanding, but the guidelines bowed to food industry lobbyists . . . [using] vague nutrient-speak when telling us what not to eat,” as opposed to actual food names.

What he likes: “The new guidance about limiting added sugars to less than 10 percent of total calories is a welcomed addition.”

Pointer: “Drink water rather than sugar-sweetened beverages.”

— David L. Katz, doctor, director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and founder of the True Health Initiative