January 19th, 2016 Print Print Email Email

Last week the US Federal government announced the release of the 2015-2020 official Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This is the 8th edition of such a document published jointly by USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services as required by the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act. About this time last year a draft document of the guidelines was released for public comments based on the recommendations of a panel of experts set by the above 2 federal departments. The present official guidelines emerged out of the draft recommendations after a year of debates, lobbying and directives from the US Congress.

About a year ago, this author wrote an article referring to the newly released draft Dietary Guidelines, with the hope that readers would consider using the information that might be relevant to their needs during that time. This article has been posted on different Ethiopian news websites ( Given the scrutiny the draft recommendations had to go through during the past 12 months, one may wonder if there are changes in the official document just published. While there are no fundamental changes of nutritional significance, as discussed below, 2 minor changes are worth noting.

In connection to the consumption of protein, in the draft recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Committee, it was suggested that all Americans adopt a more environmentally-sustainable eating habit by cutting back on meat, but this advice was modified in the final official guidelines by dropping the reference to the environment, qualifying the meat type to be consumed and by indication the consumers likely to be at greater health risks with consumption of excess meat. Accordingly, whereas consuming lean meat is generally encouraged as part of a healthy diet, due to too much protein consumption, teenage boys and young adult men are now advised to reduce their overall intake of protein foods of animal origin, such as meat, poultry and eggs, and include more vegetables and fruits to their diets. Although it is not explicitly stated, the overall intent was to put a limit on red and processed meat which is believed to be associated with the risks of cardiovascular disease and certain forms of cancer, as recently reported by the WHO. This modification on emphasis for protein use in the official guidelines was made in response to the intense lobbying and criticism from the US food and meat industries that lead to a congressional hearing on the topic.

The second change considered in the final document is related to cholesterol consumption with certain types of food stuffs like eggs and shellfish. In the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Committee, no restriction was imposed as such on the use of dietary cholesterol. The Committee justified its decision on this issue by stating that cholesterol itself does not raise blood cholesterol when people eat it, but it is fat in food that raises cholesterol and this is where focus should be placed on. However, in the final version of the guidelines Americans are clearly advised to eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible to lower their risk of cardiovascular conditions.

Despite the aforementioned topics, the rest of the information in the new official Dietary Guidelines generally reflects what was described in the 2015 draft document. For the benefits of readers, highlights of the current official guidelines formulated based on the common deficiencies linked to the average American diet are presented here in a more reared-friendly manner, by indicating their relevance to the dietary habits of most Ethiopians, wherever applicable. Given the widespread famine and devastating economic situations in Ethiopia, it looks paradoxical to be concerned about dietary issues of the kind discussed here at this time. However, as in many other societies, for a certain population group of Ethiopian origin, poor diet choices and improper eating patterns have become a subject of concern lately, particularly in urban and well-to-do communities, suggesting the need for consideration of corrective measures. It is hoped that the information in this article contributes to this effort.

Here are highlights of the recommendations of the 2015-2020 US Dietary Guidelines for consideration of adoption to one’s own situation, depending upon current dietary habits.

Eat more of the following foods and nutrients:
• A variety of vegetables and fruits: Colored (green, red, orange) vegetables, legumes (peas and beans), and whole fruits.
-Fruits and vegetables are recommended to fill half of the plate at every meal.
-Fruits and vegetables are major contributors of a number of nutrients that are under-consumed vitamins A, C, and K, potassium, fiber and magnesium.
-Fruits and vegetables are associated with reduced risks of many chronic diseases, and they are relatively low in calories which can replace high calorie foods that aid in weight gain and the associated diseases.
• A variety of grains, preferably whole grains.
• A variety of proteins, including seafood, lean meats, legumes, soy products, and nuts and seeds
• Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages.
• Oils from plants sources, such as olive, canola, peanut, sunflower, soybean safflower and corn oils, as well as seeds, nuts, seafood, olives and avocados.

Eat less of the following foods and food components:
• Added sugars: These are sugars and syrups that are added to food or beverages when they are prepared. Excess sugar has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers; with this understanding the FDA has proposed the inclusion of amounts of added sugars on food and beverage labels.
• Refined grains: Any processed grain flour; this should be replaces by whole grain products
• Sodium/table salt: The use of salt should be limited as much as possible (less than 2.3 g or one teaspoon per day for everyone). Information on salt contents of processed foods is required to be available on nutrition labels for use.
• Saturated and trans fats: Use of these food components should be limited as much as possible (less than 10% of daily calories). Foods that are high in saturated fat include butter (eg., qebbea), whole milk, meats that are not labeled as lean and tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil. Saturated fats should be replaced with unsaturated fats, such as canola or olive oil.
• Cholesterol: There is no prescribed limit for consumption of cholesterol, but consumers are advised to be cautious not to have too much cholesterol.

Recommendations on alcohol and coffee:
• Alcohol: If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation- that is, up to one drink/glass a day for women and up to two drinks/glasses a day for men.
• Coffee: If coffee is consumed, it can be consumed up to 5 cups a day
• The consumption of alcohol and coffee/caffeine at the same time should be avoided as caffeine may lead to greater consumption of alcohol, increasing the risk of alcohol-related adverse events.
(Note that the use of alcohol and coffee could be especially harmful under certain circumstances- for example, during pregnancy- where consultation with a health professional is needed).

In brief, people are advised to load their diet with fruits, vegetables, grains, low or fat-free dairy, lean meats and other protein foods, and oils, while limiting added sugars, sodium/table salt, saturated fats and trans fats.

Presently, about half of adult Americans have one or more preventable, chronic diseases, many of which are related to poor quality eating patterns and physical inactivity. Also, according to the CDC, more than a third of Americans are obese, largely due to poor diet and lack of exercise. Qualitatively, similar kinds of diet-related health conditions have been reported elsewhere, including in developing countries, such as Ethiopia. The new 2015 Dietary Guidelines is designed to help Americans ages 2 years and older eat a healthy, nutritionally adequate diet by emphasizing the importance of long-term eating patterns rather than narrowly focusing on individual diet or nutrient recommendations, as used to be in the past. Eating patterns represent the totality of what individuals habitually eat and drink, in which case the dietary components can interact synergistically to influence the health of the consumers to a greater extent.

Recognizing the roles played both by individual food components and patterns of eating behaviors, the guidelines define healthy dietary patterns by giving 3 examples of diet types: the healthy American diet, Mediterranean diet and vegetarian diet. This means, depending upon one’s own cultural background and desire, the possibility of adopting different healthy dietary practices is possible with proper application of the basic principles as well as the specific information provided in the new guidelines. In this regard, modification of the Ethiopian dietary tradition to a more healthy diet type and pattern of consumption should not be an exception. It is rather an endeavor that should be encouraged and supported to reduce the burdens of increasingly expanding diet-related diseases.

Healthy & Happy 2016.

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