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U.S. Dietary Guidelines Downplay This Health Risk, Science Says

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a new set of u.s. dietary guidelines on Tuesday meant to inform healthy food choices and policies in the country for the next five years.

The document included guidance for infant and toddler diets for the first time ever, as well as new advice for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Despite this progress, the scientific community is raising concerns about one area where recommendations were not updated: alcohol consumption.

Scientists on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that guidance for safe alcohol consumption needed to be revised from two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women to one drink a day for both men and women, according to CNN. But the website for the new guidelines claims “there was not a preponderance of evidence in the material the committee reviewed to support specific changes, as required by law.” As a result, the USDA and DHHS maintain that “moderate consumption” of alcohol for men, which is considered safe, equals up to two drinks a day.

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Representatives from the medical community maintain that such advice is misleading. Dr. Nigel Brockton, the vice president of research for American Institute for Cancer Research, said in a statement to CNN that keeping the two-drinks-per-day guideline implies that there is a safe quantity of alcohol for men to consume daily, when in reality, there is not.

“That advice is contrary to the convincing evidence that intake of even less than one drink per day elevates the risk for several cancer types, including head and neck, esophageal, and breast cancers,” the statement reads.

While government agencies and scientists can’t seem to agree on how much alcohol is actually safe, drinking alcohol every single day, no matter the amount, is more dangerous than you may think.

Top 10 Things You Need to Know About the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025

1. The Dietary Guidelines is meant to be adaptable to personal preferences, cultural food ways and budgetary considerations. The Dietary Guidelines framework purposely provides recommendations by food groups and subgroups—not specific foods and beverages—to avoid being prescriptive. This framework approach ensures that people can “make it their own” by selecting healthy foods, beverages, meals, and snacks specific to their needs and preferences.

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2. The Dietary Guidelines is developed to help all Americans. The Dietary Guidelines is based on scientific evidence on health-promoting diets in people who represent the general U.S. population, including those who are healthy, those at risk for diet-related diseases, and those living with these diseases.

3. There are 4 overarching Guidelines in the 2020-2025 editions:

• Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage.
• Customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations.
• Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and stay within calorie limits.
• Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages.

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4. There are Key Recommendations supporting the 4 Guidelines, including quantitative recommendations on limits that are based on the body of science reviewed. The Guidelines recommend:

• Limiting added sugars* to less than 10% of calories per day for ages 2 and older and to avoid added sugars for infants and toddlers;
• Limiting saturated fat to less than 10% of calories per day starting at age 2;
• Limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300mg per day (or even less if younger than 14);
• Limiting alcoholic beverages* (if consumed) to 2 drinks or less a day for men and 1 drink or less a day for women.

* The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 recommend limiting intakes of added sugars and alcoholic beverages, but do not include changes to quantitative recommendations from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for these two topics, because the new evidence reviewed since the 2015-2020 editions is not substantial enough to support changes to the quantitative recommendations for either added sugars or alcohol.

5. This is the first time the Dietary Guidelines has provided guidance by stage of life, from birth to older adulthood, including pregnancy and lactation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 provides guidance across all of the life stages and is organized by chapters for each life stage. The edition also emphasizes that it is never too early or too late to eat healthy!

6. This edition has a call to action: “Make Every Bite Count with the Dietary Guidelines.” The Dietary Guidelines, 2020-2025 focuses on choosing healthy foods and beverages rich in nutrients, and staying within your calorie limit. Which is why the Dietary Guidelines calls on every American to Make Every Bite Count?

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7. Making choices rich in nutrients should be the first choice. There is very little leeway for extra calories from added sugars, saturated fats, and if consumed, alcohol. Most of the calories a person eats each day (~85%) are needed for foods rich in nutrients that help the person meet food group recommendations. Only small amount of calories (~15%) are left over for added sugar, saturated fat, and (if consumed) alcohol.

8. it’s about the pattern of eating, not just healthy choices here and there. The Dietary Guidelines focuses on the combination of foods and beverages that make up an individual’s whole diet over time, and not single foods or eating occasions in isolation. Research shows that the ongoing pattern of an individual’s eating habits has the greatest impact on their health.

9. Most Americans still do not follow the Dietary Guidelines. The average American diet scores 59 out of 100 on the Healthy Eating Index (HEI), which measures how closely a diet aligns with the Dietary Guidelines. Research shows that higher HEI scores can improve Americans health.

10. There are 3 Key Dietary Principles that can help people achieve the Dietary Guidelines. To help improve Americans’ eating patterns, the Dietary Guidelines suggests:

• Meet nutritional needs primarily from foods and beverages.
• Choose a variety of options from each food group.
• Pay attention to portion size.

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