Dr. Pettit’s Tips for Healthy Living: Update to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

close up of different food items on table

The New Year likely came with new resolutions! I hope nutrition made your list. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services released an update to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.*  I want to highlight some of the changes for you.

For the first time, the new guidelines target added sugars specifically, suggesting we limit intake to less than 10% of our calories. This does not include natural sugars found in fruit or milk, but the sugar added to make processed foods sweeter.  Processed sugars cause the release of inflammatory cytokines which trigger inflammation in your cells. Decreasing our added sugar consumption can help calm down inflammation in the jaw, and elsewhere in the body. Recognizing sugars in food can be difficult, because they come with many names. Look for any ingredient ending in “ose,” e.g. sucrose or fructose.

In a change from the past, eggs are now a recommended protein food. I was particularly happy to see this change. Eggs can be a great source of protein, and are typically kind to the jaw. Seafood, legumes, soy products, and lean meats are also suggested as good sources of protein. Choosing variety in the foods we consume is emphasized in the Guidelines. It also encourages us to increase our fruit and vegetable intake as well.

Also new in the updated version of Dietary Guidelines is the removal of the restriction on how much total fat we consume. Diets high in unsaturated fats have found favor over the last decade, such as the Mediterranean diet, which shows great health benefits. Health scientists aren’t as concerned as in the past about total fat intake. However, as before, excess saturated fat is still frowned upon, as well as excess sodium.

I hope we can each focus on small changes in what we eat and drink to become healthier individuals. Health is a great asset to a fulfilling and enjoyable life. Happy February!

Nathan J. Pettit DMD, MSD

*U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.

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