Issues & Advocacy

Issue Brief

Dietary Guidelines

The federal government’s nutrition advice for Americans can have a major impact on restaurants.

NRA position

The NRA supports Dietary Guidelines for Americans that are based on  sound science and the latest nutrition research and that help people understand healthy eating patterns and how different foods contribute to overall dietary patterns.

Issue and background

The U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services update the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years. USDA/HHS released the 2015 Dietary Guidelines in early 2016. The NRA engaged vigorously as the 2015 guidelines were being developed, to help federal officials understand the role restaurants play in providing healthful options and choices.

The 2015 guidelines take a holistic approach to nutrition advice. Instead of looking at where food is purchased (e.g., grocery stores, restaurants, retail), the guidelines focus on what foods and beverages are purchased and consumed, and how these fit into an overall healthy eating pattern. The NRA supports this approach. Restaurant companies have worked for years to modify menus, reformulate offerings, adapt portion sizes and increase the number of “better-for-you” options. The NRA will continue to highlight the industry’s proactive efforts as it supports the development of future guidelines based on sound science and the latest research.

The NRA has partnered with USDA to promote the guidelines. We also incorporate the guidelines into our Kids LiveWell child-nutrition initiative.

The NRA submitted multiple comments and testimony as the 2015 Guidelines were being developed, including:

Impact to restaurant industry

Many restaurateurs use the Dietary Guidelines to help expand and reshape menu offerings. Because the guidelines also drive federal nutrition policy, restaurateurs and foodservice operators can be affected in other ways too, including possible adjustments to federal menu-labeling requirements, changes to school-lunch criteria, and efforts to restrict sodium or other nutrients.

What the 2015 Guidelines say

A healthy eating pattern includes:

  • A variety of vegetables from all subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other.
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils.

A healthy eating pattern should limit:

  • Saturated fats and trans fats
  • Added sugars
  • Sodium.

The guidelines set new recommended limits:

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats
  • Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age.

Other parts of the guidelines:

  • Cholesterol: The 2015 guidelines dropped a 2010 Guidelines recommendation that Americans limit cholesterol consumption to 300 mg a day but note that “[I]ndividuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible while consuming a healthy eating pattern."
  • Meat and poultry: Lean meat and poultry are part of a healthy diet, according to the guidelines. The guidelines note there’s still room for processed meats in a healthy eating pattern as long as people stay within recommended limits for overall levels of sodium, calories from saturated fat, and calories from added sugars.
  • Caffeine: For the first time, the 2015 guidelines say moderate coffee consumption can be incorporated into healthy eating patterns. The Guidelines define moderate is as three to five 8-ounce cups a day, or providing up to 400 mg per day of caffeine.