Between the never-ending supply of trendy diets and contradictory nutrition headlines, it's easy to grow confused on which foods and diets are truly good for us. One day fat is out, the next day it's in; eggs are public enemy number one day and then your best friend the next—how are we supposed to know what's actually healthy?
Oddly enough, the first model of our nation's dietary guidelines, 1977 Dietary Goals for the U.S., looks very similar to today's 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines. Both emphasize the consumption of the same certain foods and encourage us to limit the same certain nutrients.
Here, we summarize the goals written up in the document:
• Consume calories for your energy needs (and to decrease calories and increase exercise if overweight)
• Eat more complex carbs
• Reduce refined sugars in your diet (aim for no more than 10 percent of total calories)
• Eat 30 percent of your calories from fat (down from 40 percent)
• Reduce saturated fat (aim for no more than 10 percent of total calories)
• Eat less cholesterol (aim for no more than 300 mg daily)
• Limit sodium in your diet (aim for no more than 5 grams daily).
To sum things up, these guidelines tell us to only eat as many calories as our bodies actually need; consume about half of our calories from whole grains, starches, and fruits; and reduce sugar, salt, cholesterol and fat consumption—especially saturated fat. The guidelines also encourage us to ensure we're getting enough "good fats." The sodium recommendation is more liberal, but in the goals they wrote that a 2 or 3 gram (2,000 or 3,000 mg) goal would be better, they didn't feel it was realistic at the time.
Sound familiar? Let's compare those recommendations to our current guidelines:
Below are the guidelines presented in the newest Dietary Guidelines
• Follow a healthy eating plan across the lifespan.
• Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount.
• Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake.
• Shift to healthier food and beverage choices.
• Support healthy eating patterns for all.
While this guidelines are a bit more vague, when you look a little closer into what a "healthy eating plan" should and shouldn't look like. These guidelines advise prioritizing whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, fat-free or low-fat dairy, oils and protein sources while reducing saturated fat, added sugar and sodium. This ideology is very similar to the DASH and Mediterranean diets, which both have some pretty impressive research-backed health benefits.
Even our dietary percentage recommendations parallel those set back in 1977. We are currently advised to consume between 45-65% of our calories from carbs and 20-35% from fat. We also have the same limits for saturated fat and added sugars—no more than 10% of our daily caloric intake each.
The major differences here are sodium intake recommendations—we are now advised to consume less than half the sodium allowed in 1977, and our current recommendations include other factors like caffeine and artificial sweeteners. Our soda consumption almost quintupled from the '50s to 2000, and Americans are now drinking more coffee than ever before. Artificial sweeteners were also not near as abundant as they are now, as aspartame had only just hit the market in 1974, so it makes sense these items weren't top priority in the '70s.
All in all, these guidelines are a great refresher in that no matter what new diet pops up (lookin' at you, keto) or revolutionary study results say, we can pretty much stick to the same principles: consuming as many calories as your body needs, prioritizing whole foods, consuming more whole grains than refined, eating more plant-based fats and omega 3s than saturated fat and avoiding highly processed foods when we can.
Related: 10 Everyday Superfoods