New Dietary Guidelines Call for Less Sugar, Less Meat

Sugar Pouring from Drink Can

The federal government issued new dietary guidelines today – as it does every five years – to help Americans make smart food choices. The guidelines are similar to those issued in 2010: Eat plenty of produce, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein; limit salt, sugar, and saturated fat.

But there a few key differences in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including a call to drastically cut back on added sugar (the kind not found naturally in foods) and evidence that teen boys and men eat too much meat. These sections in particular may have important implications for cancer.

Slashing Sugar

According to the guidelines, which were created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, Americans should limit added sugar to 10% of daily calories. On a 2,000 calorie diet, that means no more than 12 teaspoons a day. It’s a significant reduction from the American norm of more than 20 teaspoons of added sugar a day, which includes obvious sources (15 tsp. sugar in a 20 oz. Coke), and not-so-obvious sources, such as tomato sauce and ketchup (1 tsp. sugar in 1 tbsp. ketchup).

“Reducing added sugar is important because of the evidence linking sugar sweetened beverages, including sports drinks and fruit drinks, to excess weight, which increases the risk of many types of cancer. These beverages make up the largest single source of added sugar in the diet for adults and youth,” says Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, managing director of nutrition and physical activity at the American Cancer Society.

Being overweight or obese is linked to breast, colon, and pancreatic cancers, among others. Doyle notes that the body of evidence shows that sugar does not cause cancer, despite some individual studies suggesting the contrary.

A 10% limit on added sugars mirrors the World Health Organization (WHO) 2015 guideline on sugar intake, and is more lenient than the American Heart Association’s sugar guideline, which recommends no more than 5 daily teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men.

Eating Less Meat

In addition to issuing specific recommendations, the guidelines offer insight into current dietary patterns for Americans. When it comes to protein, there’s notable room for improvement in 2 specific groups. “Some individuals, especially teen boys and adult men, also need to reduce overall intake of protein foods by decreasing intakes of meats, poultry, and eggs and increasing amounts of vegetables or other underconsumed food groups,” the report states.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer – the cancer agency of the WHO – recently classified processed meat (including hot dogs and bacon) as a carcinogen, and classified red meat (including beef and lamb) as a probable carcinogen. Among the compelling statistics that led to the decision: Eating 50 grams of processed meat daily (about four strips of bacon) increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

Cutting back on these types of meats may help prevent cancer, but the final guidelines do not specifically recommend a reduction in red and processed meats. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society, expressed disappointment in a written statement. “The final guidelines released today disregard an important evidence-based recommendation of the [Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee]” –a federal advisory committee of independent experts – “by failing to recommend that Americans eat less red and processed meat.”

The statement goes on to quote Richard Wender, MD, chief cancer control officer of the American Cancer Society: “The science on the link between cancer and diet is extensive. By omitting specific diet recommendations, such as eating less red and processed meat, these guidelines miss a critical and significant opportunity to reduce suffering and death from cancer.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Published January 7, 2016. Jointly issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


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