New dietary guidelines urge sharp cuts in sugar

New federal dietary guidelines announced Thursday urge Americans to drastically cut back on sugar and for the first time have singled out teenage boys and men for eating too much meat, chicken and eggs.

Despite those warnings, the guidelines were also notable for what they did not say. While draft recommendations had suggested that all Americans adopt more environmentally-sustainable eating habits by cutting back on meat, that advice was dropped from the final guidelines.

Longstanding limits on dietary cholesterol were also removed, a victory for the nation’s egg producers, who have long argued that cholesterol from eggs and seafood is not a major health concern.

The dietary guidelines, issued by the Agriculture and Health and Human Services Departments, are updated every five years and were first issued in 1980. Typically, they have encouraged Americans to consume more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and low-fat foods, while restricting their intake of saturated fat, trans fats and dietary cholesterol.

Although many individual consumers may not give the guidelines much thought, the recommendations have the potential to influence the diets of millions of Americans. They affect the foods chosen for the school lunch program, which feeds more than 30 million children each school day, and they help shape national food assistance programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which has 8 million beneficiaries.

This year, the advice to cut back on sugar — specifically to limit added sugars to 10 percent of daily calories — may also lead to changes in food nutrition labels. This summer, the Food and Drug Administration proposed labels that would require food and beverage firms to disclose the amount of added sugar as a way to distinguish it from naturally occurring sugar in foods.

Last year, an advisory committee of nutrition experts assembled by the government recommended that the dietary guidelines encourage all Americans to consume more plant-based foods and less meat to help promote environmentally sustainable eating habits.

That suggestion elicited intense lobbying and criticism from the food and meat industries, leading to a congressional hearing on the topic last year.

“That was the most controversial thing, and now it’s on the cutting room floor,” said Michael F. Jacobson, the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group in Washington.