The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines: What Marketers Should Know

Watch Out Added Sugars, Sodium and Saturated Fat; Hooray Eggs, Now You're OK

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2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Credit: U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released Thursday, suggest that American diets could use a little work. Overall, the main ideas hold true to what many nutritionists have said for years: eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat free and low-fat dairy products and protein, and cut back on sugar, salt and saturated fats.

"The way it's framed now it's more understandable," said Jaime Schwartz Cohen, a registered dietician and VP-director of nutrition at Ketchum. She noted that the DGA talks more about what to eat rather than what to avoid, and gives examples of healthy dietary patterns. "We know that messages that are more positive in nature are more motivating."

Food companies are digesting the announcement to determine which products stand to get a boost and which might suffer. While the guidelines do not lead to immediate changes in areas such as restaurant menus or packaged-food nutrition labels, they are used to help craft changes to programs for millions of Americans such as national school lunch and breakfast and WIC, a program for low-income women and young children.

The DGA suggested limiting added sugars to less than 10% of calories per day. That lends more power to the idea that a new "added sugars" designation will appear in the FDA's updated nutrition facts panel, whenever that is finalized.

"This is a policy document that may impact that but we don't know for sure," said Janet Helm, a registered dietician who is the chief food and nutrition strategist at Weber Shandwick. "Manufacturers may be looking at ways to reformulate. I think added sugars are going to be more on the minds of consumers."

One beneficiary of the new guidelines, she and others said, is likely to be the egg industry. That's because a prior limit on dietary cholesterol of 300 milligrams per day was removed.

"Eggs got a major boost from this," said Ms. Helm.

Eggs were also included in recommended healthy eating patterns. The American Egg Board applauded the change, calling eggs an affordable, nutrient-rich source of protein.

While no foods were banned, the guidelines suggest healthy eating patterns limit saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars and sodium.

"Ultimately all foods fit," said Ms. Schwartz Cohen. "There's no bad foods, just bad portions."

Here's a look at a few more responses to some of the guidelines.

Limit daily intake of sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day, a level well below what most adults currently consume.

Spice maker McCormick & Co. Inc. hopes people turn to its spices to come up with new ways to flavor their foods. McCormick Chairman and CEO Alan Wilson said in a statement that his company has more than 450 salt-free and reduced sodium products in the U.S. And company research suggests that when people learn how to flavor their food with spices and herbs they can reduce their sodium intake by almost 1,000 mg per day. The government's recommendations for lowering sodium consumption included cooking more from scratch to control how much sodium is used, limiting sauces, mixes and instant products, and flavoring with herbs and spices.

Campbell Soup Co. said it supports the recommendations and is reviewing the details of the guidelines. The company, like many other packaged-food makers, has already been working on efforts such as reducing sodium levels in its products. And now it is pushing for federally-led GMO labeling, another hot topic in the industry.

Limit added sugars to less than 10% of calories per day.

Some companies known for sweetened products were quick to stand by the work they are already doing to reduce sugar levels. General Mills pointed out that it has been reducing sugar in kids' cereals and aims for all of them to contain "single-digit levels of grams of sugar per serving." In yogurt, General Mills' Yoplait and its main rival, Dannon, have both been trimming levels of added sugars for years.

Mars, the confectionary company behind M&Ms and Wrigley gum, said it supported many of the findings. In the past, Mars has supported the proposal to include "added sugars" in the nutrition facts panel.

"We're still analyzing the report, but are pleased to see the recommendations on added sugar, sodium, and the benefits of whole grains," Mars said in a statement. Still, Mars wasn't completely pleased. "We're disappointed that the report does not reflect our recommendation to address the oral health benefits of chewing sugar-free gum after meals, which based on 40 years of scientific research, helps reduce the risk of cavities."

The American Beverage Association, which represents makers of non-alcoholic drinks, said "beverage companies are doing their part to help people manage their calorie and sugar intake by providing a wide range of beverage choices, a variety of package sizes and clear, easy-to-read calorie information."

Limit saturated fats to less than 10% of calories per day.

KIND petitioned the FDA for a change on the regulatory definition of the word healthy last year after it came under fire for high levels of fat in its products due to nuts. It applauded the suggestion to limit saturated fat consumption instead of a recommendation tied to total fat consumption. It also commended the limit on added sugars.

A bonus for KIND: it already said it would reduce the amount of added sugar in seven Fruit & Nut bars. Those products should hit stores this spring.