U.S. revises dietary advice on sugar, cholesterol and red meat

By Adem Lewis / in , , /

GWEN IFILL: But, first, in issuing guidelines
for how we should eat for the first time in five years, the federal government revises
some of its longstanding advice. Hari Sreenivasan has that. HARI SREENIVASAN: Despite all the warnings
over the years, you may be surprised that, for the first time, the government put a limit
on added sugar, saying it should comprise no more than 10 percent of your daily calories. The guidelines also dropped prior advice about
limiting or avoiding cholesterol and eggs. The government warned about eating too much
protein or red meat, but stopped short of what some experts wanted. And it said moderate
drinking of alcohol or coffee is OK. To help guide us through some of these guidelines,
their impact and the controversy, I’m joined by Allison Aubrey, food and health correspondent
for NPR. So, Allison, let’s start with sugar first. ALLISON AUBREY, NPR: Sure. HARI SREENIVASAN: What is the right amount
of sugar? And put it in terms I can understand. ALLISON AUBREY: Sure. Well, basically, the dietary guidelines are
coming out and saying you should get no more than 10 percent of your calories per day from
sugar, and that translates to about 10 to 12-teaspoons per day. Now, keep in mind, this
adds up really, really quickly. It translates to about maybe 40 grams of sugar. That’s the
unit of measurement that people are used to seeing on labels. So, for instance, this morning, I had a yogurt
for breakfast that had about 20 grams of sugar. You had one sort of sugary drink or one muffin,
you’re at your daily limit. And basically, right now, Americans are eating about twice
as much. We have reported on studies that show that many Americans are eating 22 teaspoons
a day. So if people are going to start following
these recommendations, it really means cutting consumption of sugar in half. HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, maybe that will
help keep my New Year’s resolution going. So, let’s also talk about the change, it seems,
about eggs and cholesterol. Why the change? ALLISON AUBREY: Well, it’s been sort of evolving
nutrition science, I would say. There used to be a belief that if you were
to eat a lot of cholesterol-rich foods, so animal-based foods with cholesterol, think
of eggs or shrimp, that that high cholesterol would lead to high LDL cholesterol in your
bloodstream. So there is still clearly a concern about
elevated cholesterol in bloodstream. That’s why many, many Americans are on statins. But
it’s now recognized that high-cholesterol foods don’t necessarily translate into higher
cholesterol in our blood. HARI SREENIVASAN: So the guidelines didn’t
say eat less red meat. It said go ahead and supplement with more seafood and other things.
Why? ALLISON AUBREY: Well, I think what the goal
is that one of the committee members told me that Americans don’t want to be told what
not to eat, what to avoid. They want to be told what they — how to expand their diet
or add more variety. And so the words of the dietary guidelines
and the people supporting communication about the new guidelines, the word they’re using
is shift. The idea is to shift away from meat and try alternative sources of protein, so
anything from seafood to nuts to beans. And, implicitly, that might mean eating less
red meat, if you’re eating more of these other sources of protein. It’s a little bit controversial.
The committee that helped advise the administration on what should be in these guidelines came
out last year and said, hey, we think you should tell Americans to eat less red meat.
But, in the end, that’s not what’s in their dietary guidelines. HARI SREENIVASAN: And what are nutritionists
or experts in this think as well? ALLISON AUBREY: Well, there is some criticism,
I have to say, today. I have spoken to several top nutrition researchers
who say a limit on red meat really should have been put into the guidelines. Otherwise,
Americans might just be confused by this message about shifting. And I think the range of opinion
goes something like this. Some people say, well, if you are nudging
Americans to eat a little bit less, that’s enough. The other point of view is Americans
need to be told like, hey, there is too much red meat in your diet. They need a specific
limit, but, again, that’s not there. HARI SREENIVASAN: The fact that these guidelines
come out only once every five years, it almost makes it a political document. It’s a statement
by an administration on what they think the government thinks people should or shouldn’t
eat, right? ALLISON AUBREY: Well, I don’t see it so much
as a political document, as I see it as kind of a consensus report. There is a lag factor here. You pointed out
in the beginning that just now do we have a recommendation to limit sugar. Your grandmother
could have told you that too much sugar is bad for you. And what you have to understand
is that the way this process works is that, every five years, the Department of Health
and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture assign this expert committee
to review all the new evidence. They pore over all of the nutrition science
and they try to come up with a consensus. So, for instance, five years ago, we knew
that sugar would rot your teeth, but we didn’t know that 22 teaspoons of sugar a day would
lead to an increased risk of heart disease or diabetes. And so it takes a while for a body of evidence
to lead scientists to say, aha, we need a clear recommendation here, so a bit of a lag
time. HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Allison Aubrey
of NPR, thanks so much for joining us. ALLISON AUBREY: Thanks for having me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *