The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services have released the 8th edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (the “Report”).  The new Dietary Guidelines, after much concern, turned out to be the best to date.

The Dietary Guidelines, issued every five years, updates the public on the Government’s best advice for healthy eating over a lifetime and mitigating diet as a risk factor in the onset of disease and obesity.  They are not intended to be a magic bullet that guarantees long life and health.  Preventing a disease is not like curing a disease. An antibiotic can treat an infection; surgery can remove a tumor. Prevention is more complicated.

Having followed the Dietary Guidelines since they were first released in 1980, inspired by the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition’s 1977 report, Dietary Goals for the United States, the 8th edition of the Report is exceptional. It is balanced and nuanced.  It presents a more accurate picture advising Americans to focus on broad eating patterns and less on individual nutrients, with three exceptions (discussed below). As the Report states up front: “Eating patterns, and their food and nutrient components, are at the core of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Key to the new Report is the concept of nutrient density. The Report advises us to follow a healthy eating pattern across our lifespan and to focus on nutrient density.  To understand the concept of nutrient density let’s think of budgeting our dollars.  We all strive to get the most bang for the buck.  It is the same for calories.  As most of us try to limit calories we need to get the greatest nutritional value out of the calories we consume.

This has become more important in recent years because most of us are burning up fewer calories every day.  Kids today don’t tend to play ball after school, ride bikes or simply go outside and play.  Many adults sit in an office all day and send emails to each other rather than getting up and walking 100 feet to talk to a colleague. If there is a villain in all this it is probably Steve Jobs and his addictive machines. Changing life styles mean that we must consume more nutrient dense foods, get our vitamins and minerals more efficiently with fewer calories.

The nutrition challenge is further complicated by the amount of food we eat away from home. Only two-thirds (67%) of the calories consumed by the U.S. population are purchased at a store and consumed in the home. Americans have increased the proportion of food they consume away from home to 33 percent in 2009-2010 from 18 percent in 1977-1978.
With this understanding in mind, the 8th Edition presents a very accurate update of scientific advice and does it very effectively.  It is a science based Report that stays away from more subjective concepts like “sustainability.”