Nutrition Panel: Egg With Coffee Is A-OK, But Skip The Side Of Bacon

Feb 19, 2015
Originally published on February 19, 2015 8:13 pm

If you like a cup of coffee and an egg in the morning, you've got the green light.

A panel of top nutrition experts appointed by the federal government has weighed in with its long-awaited diet advice.

Their conclusions are that daily cup of joe (or two) may help protect against Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And an egg a day will not raise the risk of heart disease in healthy people. Hold the sugary muffin, though.

Now that we've got breakfast settled, there's more to digest.

The committee says Americans should shift to a pattern of eating that includes more plant-based foods. And, the panel concludes, Americans should eat less sugar and meat, specifically red meat and processed meat.

"We're not talking about excluding red meat completely, but we are recommending reducing red meat intake," says Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health who is one of the committee members.

The committee concludes that a plant-focused diet not only promotes health, but is also more environmentally sustainable.

They say an optimal pattern of eating includes a broad range of foods including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, as well as fish and low-fat dairy. (Hmm, that sounds a lot like the Mediterranean diet.)

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee says in a new report that Americans should shift to a pattern of eating that includes more plant-based foods.

The committee was tasked with reviewing the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and providing recommendations to update them with the latest science on promoting health and preventing disease.

Another recommended change: Americans should limit added sugars to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. This is in line with the World Health Organization's guideline, though WHO suggests a goal of limiting sugars to 5 percent of daily calories.

To put this in perspective, that's about one soda per day. It also means watching out for all the hidden sugars added to processed foods and sweetened yogurts.

"Added sugar is bad for us," says Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco. (Lustig is not on the dietary guidelines panel.) Too much of it contributes to the risk of lifestyle diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The committee concludes that water is the beverage of choice, especially for teens and kids. It also came out in support of taxing sugar.

"Taxation on higher sugar-and sodium-containing foods may encourage consumers to reduce consumption and revenues generated could support health promotion efforts," the report stated.

So, why the recommended change on dietary cholesterol?

For a long time, Americans have been told to limit cholesterol-rich foods. But, as the American Heart Association has already concluded, there isn't strong evidence that limiting cholesterol-rich foods lowers the amount of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol that ends up in the blood.

For most healthy people, an egg a day does not raise the amount of unhealthful cholesterol in your blood, nor does it raise the risk of heart disease.

"The committee found there really wasn't strong evidence — at the population level — to continue to restrict cholesterol intake," Alice Lichtenstein, the vice chairwoman of the dietary guidelines committee and a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University, tells us.

Now, it's important to point out that the committee is not negating the risks of having high levels of LDL in the blood. People with elevated LDL levels have have a higher risk of heart attacks.

"I think it's important that people understand their actual levels ... of bad cholesterol, or LDL," says Ralph Vicari, a Florida cardiologist in the Health First Medical Group.

The dietary guidelines committee's report is now open for a 45-day public comment period, during which the public, industry groups and federal agencies can weigh in.

Then, leaders at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will write the updated guidelines based on the recommendations of the panel.

It's not at all clear which recommendations will be included. But in the past, the agencies have relied heavily on the advice of the committee. The updated dietary guidelines will be released by the end of the year.

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Cholesterol isn't as bad as we used to think it was, but we still shouldn't eat too much meat and sugar. Those are some highlights from a new report out today on what Americans should be eating. They come from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. As NPR's Allison Aubrey reports, the findings represent an evolution in thinking.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: You may feel as if you hear diet advice all the time, but the reason the report out today is a big deal is that it represents the consensus of some of the nation's top nutrition scientists. And their conclusion is that in order to promote good health, and the health of the planet, Americans should move towards a pattern of eating that is more plant-based and one that contains less meat. Alice Lichtenstein of Tufts University is vice chair of the panel.

ALICE LICHTENSTEIN: The message, in terms of red and processed meat, is that intake should be lowered. It's not that meat needs to be eliminated from the diet, just reduced.

AUBREY: Lichtenstein says the optimal pattern of eating is one that includes a broad array of foods - from fruits and vegetables to whole grains, as well as nuts, beans, fish and low-fat dairy. Now, another significant change coming from the panel's recommendation has to do with dietary cholesterol. For a long time, Americans have been told to limit it, but as was hinted at last week, this committee has advised that it's time to drop those limits. Here's Alice Lichtenstein again.

LICHTENSTEIN: The committee found that there really wasn't strong evidence to continue to restrict cholesterol intake.

AUBREY: It's been known for a while that, for instance, one egg per day does not increase the risk of heart disease, at least in healthy people. And Lichtenstein says it's become clear that there's not a strong link between the amount of cholesterol in the food we eat and how much bad cholesterol ends up in our bloodstream, where it can clog our arteries. Physician Ralph Vicari, who's a cardiologist in Florida, says people with high cholesterol levels in their blood should still be concerned.

RALPH VICARI: Absolutely. You know, if - I think it's important that people understand their actual levels - bad cholesterol levels, or LDL.

AUBREY: Because people who are prone to high cholesterol, or have other risk factors for heart disease, may be advised by their doctors to continue limiting cholesterol-rich foods and perhaps take medicine. So an egg a day - no big deal, but sugar, the committee concludes, is a big problem. They recommend that Americans cut way back and get no more than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugars. To put that in perspective, that means about one sugar-sweetened drink a day. Physician Robert Lustig, of UC San Francisco - who was not on the panel - says the evidence to support this move has been accumulating.

ROBERT LUSTIG: Added sugar is bad for us.

AUBREY: Too much of it not only packs on calories but also contributes to the risk of lifestyle diseases, such as...

LUSTIG: Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

AUBREY: The committee concludes that water is the preferred beverage of choice. Now what happens next is that the federal government will take these recommendations and write its version of the guidelines, which are due out by the end of the year. Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.