This morning, the USDA and the Department of Health and Human services finally issued a new set of American dietary guidelines. Just a few hours later, the first lawsuit over those same dietary recommendations was announced.
So, what’s in these new guidelines that has people so upset less than 24 hours in? Really, not that much—in fact, quite a bit less than was expected.
The dietary guidelines were supposed to be out before the end of last year, but kept getting delayed as the committee tried to figure out just what exactly they were going to put in them. It was widely rumored that, when they finally did drop, the new edition would prompt a showdown between the meat industry and the feds over recommendations that Americans eat less meat.
It didn’t happen—largely because those recommendations never showed up in the final draft. In fact, meat-eating barely even comes up, besides a recommendation that Americans eat “lean meats” when they can and cut down on saturated fats.
The other major change in this new edition is a hard limit on sugar intake. While not eating too much sugar has long been recommended, people were mostly left to themselves to decide what “too much” meant—and unsurprisingly, people were quite generous with their interpretations. Now, the sugar cap is set at 10% of a person’s total daily calories, whatever that amount may be. The guidelines also draw a distinction between sugar and fructose (the natural sugar found in fruit). The latter isn’t included in the final count.
But it’s neither sugar or meat that prompted the lawsuit; it’s a question over egg recommendations. U.S. dietary guidelines have long included a provision suggesting Americans keep cholesterol consumption under 300 milligrams. If you were unaware of it, don’t feel bad: Almost no one else was either—except for the egg industry, who hated it.
In these new guidelines, that daily cholesterol limit was mysteriously dropped and replaced with the cheerful but decidedly vague suggestion that Americans eat “a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products, and nuts and seeds,” coupled with a suggestion that men in particular may be eating too much protein without realizing it.
A vegan advocacy group, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, is filing a suit over the change, and suggested to the New York Times that the egg industry, and their long-standing dislike over the limit, may have been behind it.
This new set of guidelines is set to take us through 2020, so there’s plenty of time to hash out just what they mean — or even to make some changes. But so far, these new guidelines seem a lot like the old ones.
Top image: vegetable market / liz west
Follow the author at @misra