The federal government on Thursday released updated nutrition guidelines designed to help reduce obesity and prevent chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease among Americans. The government also suggested steps that individuals and employers can take to improve their health and encourage good eating habits in others. The new information is not without controversy, however.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the eighth version to be released, stress the importance of focusing on overall eating patterns rather than on individual nutrients or foods. The new edition, however, also includes updated guidance on topics such as added sugars, sodium and cholesterol as well as new information on caffeine.

Some of the guidelines won’t come as a surprise: people should eat more fruits, vegetables, fiber and whole grains. Daily diets should contain:

  • Less than 10% of calories from added sugars.

  • Less than 10% of calories from saturated fats.

  • Less than 2,300 mg of sodium.

Regarding cholesterol, the 2010-2015 document’s recommendation to limit consumption of dietary cholesterol to 300 mg per day is not part of the 2015-2020 guidelines, but dietary cholesterol remains important to consider, according to the authors.

Reaction to the guidelines among healthcare groups was mixed. American College of Cardiology President Kim Allan Williams, M.D., praised them for “including a clear statement that people do not need to obtain cholesterol through food and should limit their intake of cholesterol and saturated fat as much as possible through healthy eating patterns.”

The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network and others, however, said the evidence-based guidelines omit some important health information. “The science on the link between cancer and diet is extensive,” said Richard Wender, M.D., chief cancer control officer of the American Cancer Society. “By omitting specific diet recommendations, such as eating less red and processed meat, these guidelines miss a critical and significant opportunity to reduce suffering and death from cancer.”

In conjunction with the release of the nutrition guidelines, the U.S. Department of Agriculture also has updated for consumers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expects to have new resources available soon on to assist health professionals in supporting their clients, patients and residents in making healthy choices.

HHS and USDA recommend that workplaces offer healthy food options in their cafeterias and vending machines as well as at staff functions; provide health and wellness programs and nutrition counseling; and encourage walking or activity breaks. Individuals, they suggest, can try small changes to find what works for them, such as adding more vegetables to favorite dishes, planning meals and cooking at home and incorporating physical activity into time with family or friends.