The new US dietary guidelines are out. Here's what you need to know.

Guidelines include new recommendations on coffee, salt, and more

The federal government on Thursday issued revised dietary guidelines, calling on Americans to limit their intake of added sugars while dropping longstanding warnings about cholesterol.

The guidelines, issued every five years, influence public health campaigns and federal food assistance programs, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. Across the country, public schools use the recommendations to plan student lunches.

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The process for creating the guidelines has come under increased scrutiny in recent months, as some have questioned whether they are based on sound research. In December, Congress approved a measure calling on the National Academy of Medicine to review how HHS and the Department of Agriculture develop the recommendations.

"There's been, obviously, a healthy debate about these guidelines," says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, adding that the majority of the advice has been fairly consistent—more fruits and vegetables, less fat and sugar.

Cholesterol debate

One of the most controversial sections of the new guidelines is revised dietary advice on cholesterol. For decades, U.S. dietary guidelines called for limiting daily cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams—which caused many Americans to alter their diets.

But the new guidelines drop that recommendation, although they do state that individuals should "eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible" to reduce their risk of heart disease.

Influential diet group: Cholesterol is not a 'nutrient of concern'

Following the release of the revised guidelines, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—a not-for-profit that advocates a plant-based diet—announced that it plans to sue the government for removing the cholesterol limit. It said members of the advisory panel are closely associated with the egg industry—eggs are a source of cholesterol—and that the panel relied heavily on industry-funded studies.

New recommendations on added sugar, salt, coffee

The latest version of the guidelines also:

  • Includes a new recommendation that individuals limit their intake of added sugar to 10% of daily calories;
  • Mentions that drinking between three and five eight-ounce cups of coffee a day can contribute to a healthy diet, although the guidelines do not encourage individuals to start drinking coffee if they  do not currently do so;
  • Recommends that most Americans limit their daily salt intake to 2,300 milligrams and drops a recommendation that adults at the most risk of cardiovascular disease limit their daily salt take to 1,500 milligrams;
  • Drops language stating that "not eating breakfast has been associated with excess body weight"; and
  • States that teenage boys and men tend to eat protein above recommended levels and calls on men and boys to eat less eggs, poultry, and meat to "reduce their overall intake of protein foods."

In addition, the new guidelines continue to recommend limiting saturated fat consumption to less than 10% of daily calories—a warning that has caused criticism in the past, because dietary experts haven't reached a consensus on saturated fat's health dangers.

Experts: We may have been wrong about the evils of saturated fats

The draft recommendations released in February 2015 called on Americans to reduce their intake of processed and red meats in order to maintain a more environmentally friendly diet and removed lean meats from the description of a healthy diet. However, the federal government did not include those suggestions in the final guidelines (Jalonick, AP/ABC News, 1/7; Aubrey, "The Salt," NPR, 1/7; O'Connor, "Well," New York Times, 1/7; Whoriskey/Eunjung Cha, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 1/7; Wheeler, The Hill, 1/7).

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