2015 Dietary Guidelines: What you Need to know

I’m sure you’ve seen on some news and/or social media outlet that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines are out!  I thought I would a post to a) share with you all what that means and 2) use this post as a means to force myself to read them in pain staking detail (ugh, you’re welcome).

First and foremost this edition of the guidelines is focused on prevention of chronic disease versus treatment.  Which is fitting now that 117 million people have chronic diseases that are related in some way to poor diet, and/or physicals inactivity AND these diseases that are PREVENTABLE.

First some background – since 1980 The Dietary Guidelines for Americans has been published every five years.  The DGA’s are a joint venture by the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) and the USDA.  The guidelines are used for research purposes (i.e. prioritizing needs for research), policy making, and for medical/nutrition professionals  to make recommendations to patients.

The Guidelines have evolved from having the goal of reducing vitamin deficiencies, and having a really specific focus on 1 or 2 nutrients or food groups, to to now preventing these chronic diseases that are so related to lack of physical activity and poor diet.

The takeaways:

  1. These guidelines promote an overall focus on the total picture of an individual’s diet, not just a few individual pieces.
    1. This is a good thing, I feel, because it opens up the idea of enjoying food, and incorporating cultural practices, and getting away from the thought process of focusing on one little area.  
  2. This set of guidelines focuses more on “shifts” (I feel like this is maybe their  new “buzzword”) in terms of behavior change rather than big giant overhauls (which are less likely to last)
    1. And pretty much all of us can benefit from making healthy eating a priority throughout our lifetime, so whether you start at age two (because of your parents), or start at 20, or 40, it’s never too late to change focus and start making these “shifts”
  3. Limit added sugars- especially by making more nutritious beverage choices 
    1. This is a pretty big deal, and I’m pretty happy about this
  4. Limit added sodium (the average intake of sodium is 3440 mg/day) 
    1. Even though this recommendation is negated by the encouragement of low fat dairy products – it’s still a good recommendation from the standpoint of reducing processed and boxed/canned foods  
  5. Limit saturated & trans fats
    1. They continue to support low fat choices (which negates the added sodium recommendations
    2. They continue to suggest processed oils like canola oil instead of using butter and coconut oil in small amounts – which I continue to disagree with.
  6. Implement a variety of vegetables of all subgroups, and include beans 
    1. I mean this hasn’t really changed, but again they continue to promote variety of colorful fruits, and vegetables as well as incorporation of plant proteins
  7. Increase physical activity 
    1. From 2008 to 2013 physical activity rates have increased (between both males and females) but not by much.  
    2. The guidelines also discuss how psychosocial and cost factors play a role in this.  Which I think is important for MD’s more than RD’s.  It’s been my experience that RD’s are a lot more in touch with patient’s barriers than MD’s are.
  8. They are trying to get away from the term “diet” and use eating pattern in its place to describe an individual’s overall intake in a habitual sense (so yes, it is synonymous with diet).  But whatever, we’re all PC now.
  9. Eggs are “ok”
    1. duh
  10. Coffee is also “ok” – provided there’s no added sugar 
  11. As healthcare providers we need to empower people to think in terms of nutrition quality (and actively teach people what this is), versus looking at just the calorie count.  
    1. I mean – I can’t agree more.
  12. The guideline go as far to point out that healthy eating needs to be a shift not just with one person, but really that everyone we come into contact with can have a role in promoting better nutrition.  
    1. This is an area I would like to see expanded a lot in 2020.  Because in order for this to happen the “average person” needs to have some foundation of nutrition knowledge.  And if you read my blog, you know I am a big believer in the Registered Dietitian as THE nutrition professional.  With this guideline brings forward a lot of controversy in the sense of who is sharing what message?  It’s one thing for a “Health Coach” to encourage people to eat vegetables, it’s entirely another for them to talk about how much fiber, or vitamins someone needs.


Some things I personally want you to take away

  1. These guidelines are meant for medical and nutrition practitioners – so while the media tears down these DGA’s, let’s remember our target audience it’s RD’s, MD’s, etc These guidelines are not intended to necessarily be read by the general public.  My point here is the media is chastising these DGAs as being vague when they say “less added sugar” and “less added sodium”, expect when I read that I see: less sugar sweetened drinks, and less processed foods
  2. The guidelines emphasize fish a lot, which is not a bad thing.  The media is taking A LOT of time to question if beef lobbyists were influencing the decision for the committee to not make conclusive statements on beef.
    1. I’m a realist, and while that could potentially be true.  What also could be at play here is insufficient evidence – that beef is really that awful.  This get’s us back into the great bacon debacle from the summer when we discussed is red meat the problem?  Or is it the processing of these meats and the methods and additives used?  Hopefully in 2020 this area will be significantly less wishy washy.  The topic of limiting processed meat is touched on but again I would have liked this highlighted a bit more.
  3. The media is really enjoying highlighting that the Obama administration released these guidelines.  While appointments of office may have been made by Obama in his administration, Obama, Michelle nor his Cabinet wrote these guidelines.  Remember this is a joint venture by the DHHS and USDA (which is why I acknowledge appointments to office).  But come on – these guidelines have been around since the Carter administration (if you require a history lesson, he was the president before Reagan).
  4. As I mentioned above the guidelines are pretty negating of each other in some areas – suggesting a diet with little added sodium, then encouraging low fat dairy (Higher in added sodium).

In closing,  I don’t think these guidelines are perfect.  I think if you compare our guidelines (US) to that of other countries – i.e. Brazil you will find we tend to over complicate things.  I think the DGA’s continue to make strides, however not as quickly as I would like, and with some of these recommendations I find myself wondering “why bother?”


  1. I totally enjoyed reading this. I love your breakdown and analysis. I like where they are going with sugar and sodium, because Americans in general over indulge in both. But I like how you pointed out the discrepancies between sodium and low fat dairy. I see what they are trying to do but gosh it can get confusing, especially for someone new to healthy living and trying to figure this all out. I love that they are getting away from “diets.” But as someone who was once afraid to eat any fat, I agree with the question about processed oil. Personally, I have come back around to enjoying a little butter in my diet, and cooking with a variety of oils (love my coconut oil and add some truffle oil when cooking my asparagus). I certainly didn’t gain weight from putting butter back in my diet. It’s all about balance and sometimes I think we try so hard to look for the solutions to end obesity that we overcomplicate the simplest of things. Brilliant post!

    1. Thank you!! I am a big fan of fats lol. So I can’t help but roll my eyes a little when unprocessed fats like butte and coconut oil are labeled as something that should be limited in favor of the soybean and canola oils. And since they have come out they are being interpreted by lay persons in the media on what’s missing and not and driving me nuts (haha).

  2. I enjoyed reading this! Your #11 takeaway, I totally agree with also! With the new year starting everyone has been talking about diets and counting calories. I used to count my calories and it was so stressful and I would be hard on myself if I ate too many. I agree that we need to educate everyone about eating foods for nutritious values and not to count calories. Thank you for this!

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