Here’s Your Cheat Sheet for the New Federal Dietary Guidelines

Federally approved.
Federally approved. Photo: 145/Rob MacDougall

Every five years, the federal government releases new dietary guidelines, a list of what and how much to eat if you want to stay healthy, and today marks the release of the version that will be in effect from 2015 to 2020. As always, there’s a broken-record aspect to lots of it — admonitions against trans fats; advice to eat veggies and whole grains; casual mention that most Americans are unhealthy, overweight, and at risk of getting a laundry list of ailments. But there are also a few new, or altered, recommendations worth pointing out, especially since nobody’s got time to read it cover to cover. Here, six of the biggest changes worth noting:

Sugar: Added sugar is no bueno — it shouldn’t account for more than 10 percent of a day’s calories, the guidelines say, which means drinking one Coke will nearly max a person out for the day. Studies have shown the average American’s sugar intake is 22 teaspoons per day, and this new limit only allows about 12 teaspoons. No amount of Coke-funded health research can massage that stat.

Red Meat: Cancer-causing or not, red meat wasn’t singled out for serious concern like it was by the WHO. Already there are theories floating around for why, but the government’s recommendation is basically just “make it lean and don’t overdo it.”

Coffee: The advisory committee has said for the first time that a “moderate” amount of joe (up to five cups a day) is beneficial for health, echoing what science has been telling everybody over and over for the last year. The panel agrees that having coffee daily can help reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Protein: The male half of the population is generally eating too much of it, but dudes were the only group specifically told to cool it with their meat intake. It’s not just bacon and bologna, but also eggs and poultry. Have veggies instead, the panel recommends.

Salt: Feel free to have more of it if you’re elderly, African-American, or have certain chronic conditions — these groups were previously told to limit their intake to 1,500 milligrams a day, but now it’s 2,300 milligrams for all Americans, or roughly one teaspoon per day.

Cholesterol: For eons, the guidelines have told Americans to limit their daily cholesterol to 300 milligrams, a recommendation that upset lovers of butter, egg yolks, lobsters, and myriad other delicious things (so everybody, in other words). There is no longer a daily cholesterol limit, although the advisory committee still advises people to “eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible” if they want a lower risk of heart disease.