New Obama guidelines: Lean meat has role in healthy diet

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New federal dietary guidelines, which were released early Thursday morning, tell Americans to follow a healthy eating pattern that includes a variety of vegetables, fruit, grains, fat-free dairy, oils and a variety of proteins, including lean meats.

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The recommendations for what Americans should and shouldn't be eating, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) update together every five years, created unprecedented controversy in 2015 when the federally appointed panel of nutritionists that helps draft them considered environmental concerns in recommending that people should eat less meat.

The USDA and HHS relented to industry outrage and promised environmental the environment would not be considered, but congressional leaders wanted to be sure, adding language to the year-end $1.1 trillion spending bill requiring the agencies to conduct a “comprehensive review” of the guidelines and the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee within 30 days.

Groups in the meat industry were relieved to see that lean meats had ultimately been left in the description of a healthy diet. The agencies note in the guidelines that lean meat was also included in the description of a healthy diet in the 2010 guidelines.

“It is clear the agencies took great care in reviewing the science as well as comments on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report to develop a common sense policy document that all Americans can use to help them make healthy food choices,” Barry Carpenter, the president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute, said in a statement.

The guidelines note that there is strong evidence to support that eating less meat, including processed meats, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. They add that a 2,000-calorie diet should be limited to 26 ounces of meat, poultry and eggs per week.

Environmental groups, however, weren’t so happy, saying the agencies failed to provide clear guidance on lowering meat consumption despite strong scientific evidence from the advisory committee on the need for Americans to eat less meat for health, food security and environmental reasons.

“Given the huge health and environmental costs of diets high in factory farmed meat, the lack of clear guidance on lowering meat consumption does a disservice to the public and our future food security,” Kari Hamerschlag, senior program manager with Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. “The administration has clearly put the financial interests of the meat industry over the weight of the science and the health of the American people.”

The guidelines, which were originally due out by the end of 2015, also recommend Americans limit their sodium to 2,300 milligrams a day, consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars and less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fats.

In tandem with the recommendations, USDA and HHS recommend Americans of all ages meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans to help promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

“Americans should aim to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight,” the wrote in the guidelines. “The relationship between diet and physical activity contributes to calorie balance and managing body weight.”

When it comes to what Americans should be drinking, the federal government says Americans should limit alcohol to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

And though caffeine is not a nutrient, the guidelines say three to five 8-ounce cups of coffee a day can be incorporated into healthy eating patterns.

“This guidance on coffee is informed by strong and consistent evidence showing that, in healthy adults, moderate coffee consumption is not associated with an increased risk of major chronic diseases, like or premature death, especially from cardiovascular disease,” the guidelines say. “However, individuals who do not consume caffeinated coffee or other caffeinated beverages are not encouraged to incorporate them into their eating pattern.”

Updated at 7:59 a.m.