If you like a cup of coffee and an egg in the morning, you’ve got the green light.
A panel of top nutrition experts appointed by the federal government has weighed in with its long-awaited diet advice.
Their conclusions are that daily cup of joe (or two) may help protect against Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And an egg a day will not raise the risk of heart disease in healthy people. Hold the sugary muffin, though.
Now that we’ve got breakfast settled, there’s more to digest.
The committee says Americans should shift to a pattern of eating that includes more plant-based foods. And, the panel concludes, Americans should eat less sugar and meat, specifically red meat and processed meat.
“We’re not talking about excluding red meat completely, but we are recommending reducing red meat intake,” says Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health who is one of the committee members.
The committee concludes that a plant-focused diet not only promotes health, but is also more environmentally sustainable.
They say an optimal pattern of eating includes a broad range of foods including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, as well as fish and low-fat dairy. (Hmm, that sounds a lot like the Mediterranean diet.)
The committee was tasked with reviewing the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and providing recommendations to update them with the latest science on promoting health and preventing disease.
Another recommended change: Americans should limit added sugars to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. This is in line with the World Health Organization’s guideline, though WHO suggests a goal of limiting sugars to 5 percent of daily calories.
To put this in perspective, that’s about one soda per day. It also means watching out for all the hidden sugars added to processed foods and sweetened yogurts.
“Added sugar is bad for us,” says Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco. (Lustig is not on the dietary guidelines panel.) Too much of it contributes to the risk of lifestyle diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The committee concludes that water is the beverage of choice, especially for teens and kids. It also came out in support of taxing sugar.
“Taxation on higher sugar-and sodium-containing foods may encourage consumers to reduce consumption and revenues generated could support health promotion efforts,” the report stated.
So, why the recommended change on dietary cholesterol?
For a long time, Americans have been told to limit cholesterol-rich foods. But, as the American Heart Association has already concluded, there isn’t strong evidence that limiting cholesterol-rich foods lowers the amount of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol that ends up in the blood.
For most healthy people, an egg a day does not raise the amount of unhealthful cholesterol in your blood, nor does it raise the risk of heart disease.
“The committee found there really wasn’t strong evidence — at the population level — to continue to restrict cholesterol intake,” Alice Lichtenstein, the vice chairwoman of the dietary guidelines committee and a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University, tells us.
Now, it’s important to point out that the committee is not negating the risks of having high levels of LDL in the blood. People with elevated LDL levels have have a higher risk of heart attacks.
“I think it’s important that people understand their actual levels … of bad cholesterol, or LDL,” says Ralph Vicari, a Florida cardiologist in the Health First Medical Group.
The dietary guidelines committee’s report is now open for a 45-day public comment period, during which the public, industry groups and federal agencies can weigh in.
Then, leaders at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will write the updated guidelines based on the recommendations of the panel.
It’s not at all clear which recommendations will be included. But in the past, the agencies have relied heavily on the advice of the committee. The updated dietary guidelines will be released by the end of the year.