On Jan. 7, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services issued the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 (Eighth Edition). Happy New Year! That’s at least true for the minority of Americans currently meeting the guidelines and inspiration for the rest.
“Today, about half of all American adults-117 million people-have one or more preventable, chronic diseases, many of which are related to poor quality eating patterns and physical inactivity,” say Secretary of Human Health Sylvia Burwell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Rates of these chronic, diet-related diseases continue to rise, and they come not only with increased health risks, but also at high cost.”
The new guidelines aim to help consumers choose a healthy diet and prevent diet-related chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and poor bone health. More than two-thirds of U.S. adults and nearly one-third of children and youth are overweight or obese. The good news is a large body of evidence shows that healthy eating patterns and regular physical activity can help people achieve and maintain good health and reduce the risk of chronic disease throughout life.
“The body of scientific literature looking at healthy eating patterns and their impact on disease prevention is far more robust now than ever before,” note Burwell and Vilsack. “Chronic diet-related diseases continue to rise … the dietary guidelines are an important part of a complex and multifaceted solution to promote health and help to reduce the risk of chronic disease.”
Canola Oil Perfect Fit with Dietary Recommendations
There are five primary guidelines; the third specifically calls for limiting calories from saturated fat, which is generally overconsumed by Americans. Current average intakes of saturated fats are 11 percent of calories. Only 29 percent of Americans are consuming the recommended amount of less than 10 percent of calories. By replacing sources of saturated fat in the diet, canola oil can help Americans meet this recommendation.
The saturated fat guideline is based on evidence that replacing saturated with unsaturated fats is associated with reduced CVD risk. Trans fat intake should be as low as possible by minimizing foods that contain artificial sources of it, such as partially hydrogenated oils, margarines and other solid fats. Increased intake of trans fats is associated with increased risk of CVD.
While the new guidelines omit a specific daily limit for dietary cholesterol, they do advise people eat as little of it as possible because such foods tend to also be higher in saturated fats. Like all liquid vegetable oils, canola oil does not contain cholesterol. Per the dietary guidelines, eating patterns with lower intake of dietary cholesterol are strongly associated with reduced CVD risk and moderately linked to reduced risk of obesity.
Canola oil can also help Americans meet dietary recommendations for essential fats (omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid and omega-6 linoleic acid) and vitamin E. They are for essential omega-3 1.1 and 1.6 grams and for omega-6 between 11-12 and 14-17 grams per day for adult women and men, respectively. Daily vitamin E intake, often falling short for Americans, should be 15 milligrams for adults. One serving (1 tablespoon) of canola oil provides 1.3 grams of omega-3 fat, 2 grams of omega-6 fat and 2.4 milligrams of vitamin E.
Canola Oil Part of Healthy Eating Pattern
According to the new dietary guidelines, a healthy eating pattern should include oil, shifting away from solid fats and replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats. Surprisingly, about 75 percent of Americans have an eating pattern low in oils, which provide essential fats and vitamin E, in favor of solid fats.
“This edition of the dietary guidelines focuses on shifts to emphasize the need to make substitutions-that is, choosing nutrient-dense foods and beverages in place of less healthy choices-rather than increasing intake overall,” notes the executive summary of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. “Most individuals would benefit from shifting food choices both within and across food groups. Some needed shifts are minor and can be accomplished by making simple substitutions, while others will require greater effort to accomplish.”
Canola oil is one of the simple substitutions for solid fats and oils higher in saturated fat. It is highlighted in the dietary guidelines as a rich source of monounsaturated fat, good source of omega-3 fat, and the least source of saturated fat among commonly consumed oils. (No wonder the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized in 2006 a qualified health claim for canola oil on its ability to reduce heart disease risk when used in place of saturated fat. As a result, canola oil is now one of three oils that qualifies for the American Heart Association Heart-Check Mark.)
Per the new dietary guidelines, strong and consistent evidence shows that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated, especially polyunsaturated fats, is associated with reduced levels of total cholesterol and of “bad” LDL-cholesterol per the dietary guidelines. Additionally, strong and consistent evidence shows that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats is associated with a reduced risk of heart attacks and CVD-related deaths. Some evidence has shown that replacing saturated fats with plant sources of monounsaturated fat, such as canola oil, may also be associated with reduced CVD risk.
As a result, the dietary guidelines call for a shift from solid fats to oils as much as possible to move the intake of oils to recommended levels. Strategies include using vegetable oil, such as canola oil, in place of butter, stick margarine, shortening, lard and coconut oil when cooking as well as choosing other foods, such as salad dressings and spreads, made with oils instead of solid fats.
Solid fats, including tropical oils (coconut, palm and palm kernel), are solid at room temperature. Tropical oils are high in saturated fats and should be considered as solid fats for nutritional purposes per the dietary guidelines. Partially hydrogenated oils, which contain trans fats, should also be considered solid fats. Besides contributing to CVD risk, solid fats are abundant in American diets and contribute substantially to excess calorie intake.
Finally, the dietary guidelines note significant health and food access disparities, with nearly 15 percent of U.S. households unable to acquire adequate food to meet their needs because of insufficient income or other resources. Fortunately, canola oil is an affordable ingredient that’s readily available. Using it in place of other oils and solid fats is an easy change most, if not all, Americans can make to improve their diet and reduce risk of chronic diseases.
Angela Dansby is director of communications for the U.S. Canola Association.