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New Dietary Guidelines Affect Eating Habits and Agri-Food Companies Alike

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued today brings delight to some food producers and heartbreak to others. As scientific understanding of food and health evolve, so does this report, meaning some food categories (such as meat, eggs and dairy) have seen their recommended servings ebb up and down since the guidelines’ inception in 1980.

Here are some of the focuses of this year’s report:

  • A shift from specific nutrient recommendations to healthy eating patterns
  • Added sugars were given a skull and crossbones warning, potentially affecting nutrition labels down the road
  • Teenage boys and men were singled out for eating too much meat, chicken and eggs
  • Specific limits on dietary cholesterol were removed, however cholesterol is still discouraged, along with saturated fat
  • Plants received a health halo with a call to eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains
  • Fat-free and low-fat dairy, soy beverages and grains are all encouraged
  • Sodium stays a significant concern; Americans should eat a teaspoon of salt or less per day
  • Caffeine gets a health nod and adults are cleared to consume up to 5 cups of coffee a day


Overall, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommends healthy eating patterns, which “include a variety of nutritious foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy, lean meats and other protein foods and oils, while limiting saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars and sodium.” The report notes that healthy eating can be modified to fit individual taste preferences, traditions, culture and budget.

You can view the full report here: 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The guidelines is meant to help individuals “keep their weight under control, and prevent chronic conditions, like type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease,” said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell in a press release issued today.

While the dietary guidelines is meant to change consumption patterns, it also affects agriculture and food producers whose products contain nutrients called out in the guidelines.

Meat producers have been crossing their fingers that a call to decrease red and processed meat wouldn’t appear in the guidelines and were happy to see no such mention in the final version. For a while, it seemed the scientific advisory committee was entertaining the idea to also incorporate environmental concerns about meat into its recommendation. Instead, it appears the focus has stayed on the nutritional components of food, not a food’s environmental footprint.

But it wasn’t all roses for meat producers. The conclusion that teenage boys and men should reduce protein intake means half the population has now been advised to put less meat on the table. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association applauded the inclusion of a lean meat recommendation, and cautioned that “a significant amount of research shows that many people can lose and maintain a healthy weight, support a healthy metabolism and age more vibrantly when they consume more high-quality protein,” as reported in the New York Times.

The removal of cholesterol limitations is a boon for egg producers who, according to the New York Times, “have long argued that cholesterol from eggs and seafood is not a major health concern.” While the guidelines didn’t include a specific amount of cholesterol intake to aim for, they did still advise to “eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible” due to possible cardiovascular disease implications.

Similarly, a recommendation to get less than 10 percent of calories from added sugars will ire some food manufacturers who have long sweetened their processed products beyond the recommendations. Already soda companies and others have begun reformulating their ingredients to insert more natural sugars into their products.

It’s easy for agri-food companies to get caught up in concerns about the potential business implications of the dietary guidelines. However, with every challenge there is also opportunity. Nuffer, Smith, Tucker helps agri-food companies cut through the clutter and focus on the issues and opportunities that really matter. For 23 years, we’ve been implementing Food Foresight, a trends intelligence system with our partners at the University of California, Davis. To learn more about our take on what’s ahead for food and agriculture or develop a strategic plan for your agri-food business, contact our team.

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