The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has reached some new conclusions about how Americans do and should eat.

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On Nutrition

What’s in store for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines?

Every five years, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans gets an update. This gives the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) the opportunity to review and reflect on the changing state of the science on nutrition and health, as well as statistics about how we eat as a population, before making recommendations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Since the guidelines were first released in 1980, some recommendations have remained fairly constant, but changes have popped up over the years in response to science, politics or pressure from the food industry.

The DGAC issued its more than 500-page scientific report in February, and this year’s most dramatic change is the removal of recommendations that we limit dietary cholesterol to no more than 300 milligrams per day, in light of research suggesting that dietary cholesterol doesn’t have a major effect on our blood-cholesterol levels.

This is a significant reversal, because for decades, it was thought that eating cholesterol-containing foods, such as the much-maligned egg, contributed to higher levels of blood cholesterol, then to cardiovascular disease. Before you start eating eggs morning, noon and night, remember that eggs are also a source of saturated fat, and excess saturated may still play a role in inflammation and cardiovascular disease. Related: Saturated fat not the pure villain we think

That said, eggs, the yolks in particular, are quite nutritious. I’m a fan of eating them scrambled, with a load of dark leafy greens and other veggies mixed in. Because you know what else is super nutritious? Vegetables. And we still don’t eat enough of them. Vegetable intake is down from 2010, especially among children, adolescents and young adult males.

(Marcus Yam / The Seattle Times)
(Marcus Yam / The Seattle Times)

That’s not in line with the overall body of scientific evidence reviewed by the DGAC, which identifies a healthful diet as being “higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or nonfat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meats; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.”

In fact, a vegetable-rich, plant-based diet is so healthful that the 2015 DGAC has outlined a new Healthy Vegetarian Food Pattern as well as and a Mediterranean-style Food Pattern, citing the wealth of data that supports the health-related benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet. Related: 7 steps to an anti-inflammatory diet

This is a far cry from how most Americans eat. On the whole, the country’s diet continues to be less than optimal, contributing to higher rates of chronic disease.

The typical American diet is low in vegetables, fruit and whole grains and too high in calories, saturated fat, sodium, refined grains and added sugars. More than half of our calories come from “mixed dishes,” especially burgers, sandwiches and tacos, as well as snack foods, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Will the DGAC recommendations ultimately find their way into the 2015 Dietary Guidelines? That’s hard to say. The DGAC is a panel of scientific experts in the areas of nutrition, food science, public health, medicine and agriculture. Their 2015 recommendations, which also address sustainable agriculture and the environmental impact of our food choices, have been called courageous.

Unfortunately, the USDA and HHS choose which recommendations to include in the actual 2015 Dietary Guidelines. Considering that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has made comments likening the DGAC to a 3-year-old child, it’s anyone’s guess to what degree politics will override the science this time.