Making Sense of U.S. Dietary Guidelines

Dr. Barry Sears 2015 USDA Dietary Guidelines

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It’s 2016 already. What happened to 2015?

It turns out that draft guidelines released in February 2015 ran into political reality with the food lobbies. In particular, the meat, poultry, and beverage industries cried foul and got many of the initial scientific recommendations watered down. The result is another worthless flow of advice for most Americans, but potentially massive payoffs for the suppliers to school lunch programs (30 million children) and the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Children and Infants (another 8 million individuals). As usual, money talks and science walks when it comes to dietary guidelines.

Whoa, This is Heavy

Lost in all of this industry meddling was a recent JAMA Internal Medicine report that obese Americans (67 million and growing) now outnumber the number of overweight Americans. Obviously, the previous seven editions of the Dietary Guidelines issued every five years haven’t helped Americans become any healthier. The confusion created by this new eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines is unlikely to reverse the growing epidemic of obesity.

Here’s why:

Let’s start with the Number One fact about obesity that is not even discussed in the new dietary guidelines: Calories do count. You have to eat fewer calories to lose weight.

But what if you are always hungry? Then eating fewer calories is self-defeating. As your increased hunger guarantees any initial weight loss will quickly return. Calorie restriction is only possible if you are never hungry.

Know The Secret of the Zone & Your Brain Will Stop You From Eating

Following the guidelines of the Zone Diet, you can restrict calories without hunger or fatigue. Now you can balance calories to stabilize blood sugar levels and simultaneously increase the release of satiety hormones from the gut that tell the brain to stop eating. Research from Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care indicates you need just 30 grams of protein at each meal.

How much protein is 30 grams? That’s about the size of what you can place on the palm of your hand. Is there any mention of this scientific data in the new Dietary Guidelines? Nope. Just the same old advice; eat a variety of foods.

But, Wait. There’s More. Or is There Less?

Next, Americans are told to restrict saturated fat and added sugars to 10% of total calories. But if you’re not making any total calorie recommendations in your guidelines, then that 10% restriction could be any number of grams of saturated fat or added sugars.

Finally, Americans are supposed to eat lean protein like chicken and meats, unless you happen to be a male and then you are encouraged to reduce your intake of lean protein like chicken, meat, and eggs. Huh? This sounds like reading the U.S. Tax Code!

Dr. Sears’ Opinion of What Americans Should Eat Today Through 2020

Since I was never asked my opinion on what Americans should eat, let me share my insights in dietary guidelines that are simpler to understand and easier to implement.

  1. Put a little protein, size and thickness of the palm of your hand, on your plate at every meal. (This can include vegetable protein like tofu). Don’t forget to include breakfast, too!
  2. Fill the rest of your plate with a lot of vegetables.
  3. Add a dash (that’s a small amount) of fat low in saturated fat and omega-6 fat to the meal. These fats include olive oil, nuts, or guacamole.
  4. Have a small piece of fruit for dessert.
  5. Check the time five hours after every meal to see if you’re hungry. If you’re not hungry, then repeat Steps 1-3 at your next meal.

If you follow those four rules, you will be consuming 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day, but without hunger or fatigue.

On the other hand, if you want to always be hungry and tired then follow the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines.


  • Department of Health and Human Services. “2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”.
  • Yang L and Colditz “Prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States, 2007-2012.” JAMA Intern Med 175:1412-14123 (2015).
  • Paddon-Jones D and Leidy “Dietary protein and muscle in older persons.” Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 17:5-11 (2014).

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About Dr. Barry Sears

Dr. Barry Sears is a leading authority on the impact of the diet on hormonal response, genetic expression, and inflammation. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his research efforts over the past 45 years to the study of lipids. He has published 40 scientific articles and holds 14 U.S. patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. He has also written 14 books, including the New York Times #1 best-seller, The Zone, which have sold more than 6 million copies in the U.S. and have been translated into 22 different languages.


  1. Jeremy Kinder

    The diet makes total sense in terms of what it accomplishes and how it helps people, especially athletes. My only area that I am trying to make sense of is consuming raw vegetables? I love eating healthy greens, and raw works best for me. 10 cups of this or 20 cups of that seems extreme? If I combine a couple of cups of a leafy green (Romaine, Spinach) with a cup of cauliflower and/or cucumber, will that be considered one block? Or do I still need to ramp up the amount of Romaine cups? I am a 5 block guy, so I will already be eating a block of fruit along with beans in this meal

  2. rasperchbur

    Department of Health and Human Services released the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans . Where such information?

  3. Margaret

    I love vetetables, but have a thyroid issue. I am understanding that I can only eat 3 helpings of cruciferous vegetables a week. That does eliminate so much of what I eat. I love the Zone diet. It is really easy to follow and I would probably lose more weight if my thyroid worked better. Have you dealt specifically with thyroid problems? Thank you

    • Dr. Sears

      Thyroid problems are very difficult to work with since you also have balance cortisol levels at the same time. With your thyroid problem I would check your TSH levels to determine if you might require some addition T3 to optimize the performance. If the TSH is greater than 5, this is usually indicative of needed prescription thyroid supplementation. Obviously you are doing a good job following the Zone Diet, but adding extra polyphenols and omega-3 fatty acids will also accelerated the process of achieving hormonal balance.


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