New Dietary Guidelines: What's In, What's Out?


We discuss the recent changes in dietary guidelines and how they affect the way we're supposed to eat with Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, and Dr. Neil Stone from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.


Proposed new dietary guidelines released by a government advisory panel have taken some people by surprise with the declaration that dietary cholesterol is no longer a “nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” The report also says that three to five cups of a coffee a day is compatible with a healthy diet, and largely sticks to previous guidelines on saturated fats and added sugars.

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  • Cholesterol no longer a “nutrient of concern for overconsumption”
  • Limit saturated fats to 10 percent of total calories
  • Panel OKs three to five cups of coffee a day

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, says this report reiterates a long-standing call for moderation.

“Moderation has been the message the medical and scientific community has been advocating for roughly 3,000 years, and that remains the flavor of these guidelines,” Shah said. “The key is maintaining the balance between calorie intake and exercise. That hasn’t changed since Galen.”

  • Limit added sugars to 200 calories a day
  • Limit sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams a day

And, he says while the report’s recommendation on cholesterol is eye-catching, it’s largely based on better and more recent scientific data on the relationship between cholesterol intake and cholesterol level. The proposed guidelines call for limiting sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams a day, even for people at risk for heart disease. It recommends keeping added sugars to 200 calories a day, and says a plant-based diet is good for health reasons and good for the environment.

  • Plant-based diet is healthier and greener
  • Lean meats can be part of healthy diet

IDPH’s Shah recognizes that a largely vegetarian diet isn’t feasible for everyone. And he says getting the word out about dietary recommendations can be challenging for public health professionals.

“Eating and food are among the most primal activities, and as such, our urges can lead us to certain diet choices that are very difficult to unseat,” Shah said. “When we deal with a report like this or a new finding, the challenge is taking a 572-page report and getting folks to change their behavior accordingly… given the importance of diet to the overall health picture, we take it very seriously.”

Shah, who was appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner last month, says he’s spent the last several weeks in “diagnosis” mode and is now moving into “therapy” mode. He hopes to make the state public health department more proactive, and to deal with what he calls “the storms that are on the horizon.”

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