Despite the ability to make personal food choices, many know the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as the “gold standard” model that focuses on the foods and beverages that help maintain a healthy weight and prevent chronic disease, such as obesity.

Image/Amanda Mills
Image/Amanda Mills

The guidelines are developed and published by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) every five years. The current guidelines were introduced in 2010 and are currently under review and revision for 2015.

The guidelines recommendations for 2015 ( were developed and released recently by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The recommendations include changes beyond the familiar “MyPlate” icon, used since 2010, that visually depicts the current guidelines and helps consumers see how to balance their food choices for good health.

Some of those changes for 2015 include recommending limited amounts of meat, particularly red and processed meat products, and more plant-based foods in a person’s diet. Currently, these are strictly recommendations to be reviewed by HHS and USDA, which will also take into account input from other agencies and the public before releasing the finalized guidelines.
What do these new dietary guidelines recommendations actually mean?

Although Americans make personal food choices, the guidelines are used to create menus and food standards for governmental programs, such as the school lunch program. The recommendations could affect all involved in food production to some degree, including but not limited to industries related to meat, poultry, dairy, seafood, grains, fruits and vegetables.

“As research continues to examine the role of diet in health, the dietary guidance evolves,” said Sandy Procter, human nutrition specialist for K-State Research and Extension. “While some might view the changing information as a concern, I believe we should be encouraged by the dietary guidance revisions reminding us that nutrition is a relatively young science supported by ongoing research.”

Travis O’Quinn, fresh meat specialist for K-State Research and Extension, said while he acknowledges the nutritional advantages of various foods, the proposed recommendations could affect the meat industry to a greater extent.

People should know that meat is a nutrient-dense product, he said, probably one of the most nutrient-dense food products available. At an appropriate serving size, it can be beneficial to a person’s diet.

For example, in a typical 3-ounce serving of lean beef, a person would eat more than 10 percent of his or her daily value for nine essential nutrients, including protein, zinc phosphorus, iron and many B-vitamins, O’Quinn said. That person would get these nutrients at most likely less than 200 calories in that serving.

Procter, who also is a registered dietitian, agrees that a 3-ounce portion provides great nutrition, but the issue for most Americans is that they seldom stop at 3 ounces.

“‘MyPlate currently shows about one-fourth of the plate as a protein source, which can certainly be lean red meat,” she said. “We work with consumers to consider the economic, nutrition and health benefits of a variety of protein foods, keeping an eye on portion size.”
Why do the recommendations change over time?

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee includes many physicians, dietitians and nutritionists. According to HHS’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, these experts are nationally recognized in the field of nutrition and health and are charged with reviewing recent scientific literature related to human nutrition and discussing how to use the research to make recommendations for the next guidelines version.

It’s not uncommon for the guidelines to change somewhat every five years. For example, the guidelines have previously recommended Americans limit cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams per day—found in less than two eggs or about four pieces of fried chicken—for heart health. While the latest recommendations made by the committee said to restrict meat intake, they also said to scrap the cholesterol limit, based on evidence it “is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”

“This again points to evolving science,” Procter said. “In the past, cholesterol was considered a factor in the development of heart disease particularly, and since eggs contain cholesterol, we were urged to avoid over-consumption of eggs. Now we know that dietary cholesterol from eggs and other foods has less effect than was thought on cholesterol formation in the body.”

“Couple that with the excellent nutritional benefits of eggs,” she continued. “They provide affordable protein packed with nutrients most people need more of—vitamin A, vitamin B12, choline, lutein, selenium and zinc. The benefits of eggs far outweigh the former concern.”

O’Quinn said the latest recommendations regarding meat stemmed a lot from protecting the environment and sustainability—a term coined in some form more than 200 times in the recommendations document.

“(The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee) is a group of medical and nutritional experts tasked with evaluating the nutritional effects of the dietary guidelines,” O’Quinn said. “However, the committee discussed not just nutritional recommendations but also made some statements about environmental sustainability.”

He said the term “sustainability” is being used more frequently in animal food production, but it is a concept that is still developing.

“Probably in the next few years we will see defined legal terminology for sustainability and sustainable,” O’Quinn said. “Currently, if we look at sustainability as the ability to produce food products from the same resources over a stretch of time, many U.S. beef producers and other animal agriculturalists have been producing animals on the same plot of land for more than 100 years.”