In the midst of a mind-bending week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released its 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines. Developed without normal fanfare and scant public attention due to the pandemic, this once-every-five-year exercise is intended to provide the public with the most up-to-date dietary advice to promote health and prevent chronic disease.
These guidelines are considered the No. 1 trusted resource for health care professionals and policymakers, and according to the American Pharmacists Association, they shape school lunch programs and affect what food companies produce.
Among the recommendations, the 2020-2025 guidelines continue to say that no more than 10% of our calories should come from added sugar. According to Livestrong, that equates to the amount that might be found in a can of regular cola plus a bowl of sugary cereal. “Sugar consumption and obesity have been closely linked,” they remind us. According to the Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, just under 40% of adults in the U.S. have obesity, which is well-known as a condition connected to serious health problems such as heart disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes.
As pointed out by the American Pharmacists Association, the newly released guidelines keep current allowances for sugar and alcohol consumption unchanged, rejecting recommendations by its scientific advisory committee. It recommended cutting the limit for added sugars in the diet to 6% of daily calories. The scientific advisory committee also recommended lowering the limit for alcoholic beverages from two drinks to one drink per day for men, matching the guidance for women. It was ultimately decided that the evidence was “not substantial enough to support changes to quantitative recommendations for either added sugars or alcohol,” according to the Pharmacists Association.
While conceding that added sugar does not have to be totally off-limits, Livestrong, along with others, believes it should account for a much smaller percentage of our calories than we are currently getting. They remind us that the average American adult “consumes around 77 grams of added sugar per day, more than three times the recommended amount for some people, per the American Heart Association.”
“During the unveiling of the dietary guidelines, USDA and HHS data showed the sad reality that Americans’ eating habits haven’t changed for the better, despite decades of similar guidelines,” Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, tells Food Safety News. “Now, we see clearly that healthy eating is a critical defense against communicable diseases such as coronavirus,” he adds.
“People need to remember, first and foremost, that … 70 to 80% of your immune system is in your gut and what we eat every day can affect our immune system,” says Susan Olmer, a registered dietitian at Columbus Community Hospital, a small, community-owned, not-for-profit hospital located in the northwest part of Columbus, Nebraska. Her comments were part of a hospital response to the new guidelines. “Eating a lot of fatty food, meat products and processed foods can cause inflammation in our bodies. When we get that inflammation that lowers our immune system and that allows us to get sick.”
“To decrease obesity, the thinking is that we should be meeting the majority of our daily nutrition needs with healthy foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains,” says Livestrong, adding that sugar does not have to be totally off-limits. It also must be pointed out that, for the first time, the dietary guidelines included recommended healthy diets for infants and toddlers.
Yet, with normal routines dissolved, increased isolation bordering on a year and coping with what can feel like overwhelming stress, bad habits can take hold. We seem to be eating worse and drinking more.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an estimated 15 million people in the United States have alcohol use disorder. As outlined in a recent USA Today report, until this year, “dry January,” a social media-fueled month of voluntary sobriety, was becoming increasingly popular.
“But on Wednesday night, six days into dry January, chaos erupted in Washington D.C., and Twitter exploded with an abrupt declaration: dry January was ‘canceled,'” USA Today’s Alia E. Dastagir writes.
“Experts in addiction say our behavior Wednesday night offers important insight into how we cope with stressful events and may make dry January even more important,” she adds. “American adults, particularly women, are drinking more amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“If (drinking) was the only coping strategy you could come up with last night, we have compassion for that,” Nancy Colier, a psychotherapist and interfaith minister, tells USA Today. “But whatever is driving you to have a dry January — if it’s to be more present, to be more joyful, to sleep better, to clean your liver, if it’s physical, emotional, spiritual — every moment is a chance to restart your day and your life.”
“The pandemic has definitely wrought some big changes in our society,” Ruth Chang, professor of jurisprudence at Oxford University who has researched extensively into decision-making, explains to NPR. “I think it’s a great opportunity to think about how to think.”
“Instead of being frustrated by failure, cut yourself some slack and recognize that changing your behavior is, essentially, learning a new skill,” says John Norcross, a professor of psychology at the University of Scranton and an expert in behavior change, reported to Time magazine about breaking resolutions.
A breaking news report got me thinking. Maybe it is time for us to start adopting a post-pandemic mentality. As reported by The New York Times, and according to a study published this week in the journal Science, “Once immunity (to the coronavirus) is widespread in adults, the virus rampaging across the world will come to resemble the common cold.”
“The timing of how long it takes to get to this sort of endemic state depends on how quickly the disease is spreading, and how quickly vaccination is rolled out,” said Jennie Lavine, a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University in Atlanta, who led the study.