0219-Feature-Dietary Guidelines_BlogThe nation’s top nutrition panel released its advisory report Thursday setting target levels for sodium, saturated fats and added sugars – recommendations that eventually could shape public policy, including school lunches, how food manufacturers craft their products and diet advice.

The recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee go next to the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. Those agencies will release the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans this fall, after a period of public comment and revision. The guidelines have been published every five years since 1980.

The advisory panel, made up of the nation’s top nutritionists who spent 18 months of study, found that sodium and saturated fat are “overconsumed” by the U.S. population.

Their report suggests the general population have these daily goals: less than 2,300 milligrams dietary sodium (or an age-appropriate amount), less than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat and a maximum of 10 percent of total calories from added sugar. The recommendations also advise Americans to consume diets that are “lower in red and processed meats.”

The report said that an overall healthy diet is “higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.”

As anticipated, the panel did not include a recommendation for dietary cholesterol, agreeing with an American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology report that concluded there isn’t scientific evidence to show it reduces the artery-clogging LDL cholesterol in the blood. In the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, Americans were told to limit dietary cholesterol to 300 mg a day.

The committee says none of the reductions in its report are meant to be done in isolation but as part of an overall healthy diet that focuses on the kinds of food and the patterns of eating. It encourages the food industry to revamp the way it makes and labels its products.

About half of all American adults, about 117 million people, have one or more preventable chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes, related to poor diet and lack of exercise, according to the advisory report.

“It’s clear that Americans need to change their eating habits and make more nutritious choices,” said Elliott Antman, M.D., president of the American Heart Association. Although the report’s advice differs from the AHA’s targets for sodium, saturated fats and added sugars, Antman said it is a shift in the right direction and, if they appear in the final report, will “steer the public toward a more heart healthy path in their daily diets.”

Reducing sodium in salty processed foods is “critical” in cutting cardiovascular risk, Antman said. Two-thirds of adults and about 14 percent of kids age 12 to 19 are prehypertensive or hypertensive. Currently, Americans consume about 3,400 mg a day, about 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt a day. The advisory panel’s recommendation of less than 2,300 mg a day of sodium is the same amount as the current guidelines.

“We urge the food industry to give Americans a better chance to achieve this goal, by decreasing sodium in packaged and restaurant foods – the source of nearly 80 percent of the salt we eat daily,” Antman said.

Barbara Millen, Dr.P.H., R.D., chair of the DGAC and a nutrition epidemiologist, said there have been few improvements in consumers’ food choices during recent decades.

“On average, the U.S. diet is low in vegetables, fruit and whole grains, and too high in calories, saturated fat, sodium, refined grains and added sugars,” Millen said in her letter presenting the report to the federal government.

“Under-consumption of vitamin D, calcium, potassium and fiber are of public health concern for the majority of the U.S. population,” said Millen, who is founder of a company that creates web and mobile apps to encourage healthy lifestyles and a professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. “Furthermore, more than 49 million people in the United States, including nearly nine million children, live in food insecure households. Creative, evidence-based strategies are needed to reverse these alarming trends.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated 2/23/2015 to clarify in the fourth paragraph that previous recommendations called for a diet low in lean meat rather than a diet in lean beef.