Americans should eat more fruits and vegetables and cut down their intake of red meat, sugar and alcohol, according to the scientific report compiled by the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which was posted by the USDA on Wednesday.
Specifically, the report says, diets that have no animal products have shown fewer mortality risks. Diets including meat were found to be less risky the less red and processed meat that was included. The report finds no health benefits from eating red or processed meat. Whole grains, seafood and legumes are also seen as beneficial in all diets. Seafood is especially recommended for pregnant women and young children.
This report is for policymakers to use as they craft the final guidelines, which will be published before the end of the year. A public meeting will be held Aug. 11 to discuss this report and its recommendations.
The committee, made up of doctors, scientists, dietitians and other medical professionals, compiled the 835-page scientific report by looking through research — more than 1,500 primary research documents — and taking public commentary, both online and through public meetings. The guidelines, which are published by USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are updated every five years.
The report indicates this year’s committee found more evidence linking dietary patterns to risk of chronic diseases than they did five years ago. For consumers to have the best long-term health outcomes, they need to consider the amounts of different foods they eat and how often they eat them.
“The Committee found strong evidence that, in adults, a core dietary pattern characterized as higher in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains, lean meats and seafood, appropriate dairy foods, and unsaturated vegetable oils, while being lower in red and processed meats, saturated fatty acids and cholesterol, and beverages and foods with added sugars is associated with reduced risk of all-causes of mortality,” the report says.
This finding, which is repeated throughout the report, is a huge win for the plant-based food sector, which is one of the hottest areas of the business right now. The number of plant-based food offerings available to consumers is increasing and sales are skyrocketing. According to statistics from SPINS, U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods rose 11.4% last year, increasing to a market value of $5 billion. Plant-based meat sales were up 18%, bringing the category’s worth to more than $939 million.
As the plant-based category gets more of a foothold in the grocery store, consumers are believing those products are better for them than their animal-based counterparts. A survey in January from the International Food Information Council found that 45% of consumers felt plant-based meat was healthier than that coming from an animal.
Previous health studies have been inconclusive on the relative health of plant-based meat. The meat sector and its allies have said the extensive processing and addition of ingredients including sodium actually make plant-based products less healthy. But if this finding from the scientific report makes it into the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the meat sector will have less of an argument.
Grocery store products, in general, have seen sales skyrocket across the board since the pandemic closed down dine-in foodservice establishments, but plant-based product sales have grown 35% faster than the food category in general, SPINS found. Plant-based meat especially saw this peak, with sales so far this year up 148% compared to 2019.
Other findings also underscore trends that have taken hold in recent years. The report nudges down the amount of added sugar that it recommends as appropriate for a healthy diet. Five years ago, the recommendation was that no more than 10% of all calories consumed come from added sugars. This year, the committee recommends no more than 6% of calories come from them.
Americans have been cutting back on sugar in recent years. A 2018 Ipsos study found seven in 10 were concerned with the amount of sugar in their diets. That study and others have found that Americans would prefer to cut down on sweetened foods rather than turn to other sweeteners. Many manufacturers have been working to serve this consumer, reformulating products to use fewer sugars — or to replace traditional cane and beet sugar with smaller amounts of intense natural sweeteners.
The report also says there is little health value in alcohol consumption, saying better long-term health results come from drinking less. It recommends adults drink only one alcoholic beverage per day. Consumers in general, especially millennials, have already been making this change. As beer volumes have declined, U.S. bottled low- and no-alcohol beverages are projected to jump about 32% between 2018 and 2022 — three times their growth in the previous five years — according to IWSR data cited by Bon Appetit.
Several breweries have developed no- and low- alcohol beers, while there are several alcohol-free spirits on the market. Big alcohol manufacturers are getting in on the trend as well, with AB InBev first naming a chief nonalcoholic beverages executive in 2018, and Diageo owning a majority stake in nonalcoholic spirits maker Seedlip.