Many are familiar with the dietary guidelines promoted by health professionals to encourage Americans to eat nutritious, well balanced diets. Those guidelines are revised every five years and later this year the updated round of recommendations will be released. The dietary guidelines for Americans serve as the cornerstone of federal nutrition programs and policies, providing food-based recommendations to help prevent diet-related chronic diseases and promote overall health. These guidelines suggest to people how to make food choices as well as serve as the foundation for federally funded food assistance programs, direct the contents of school lunches and influence how foods are labeled.

Many Americans do not meet the current nutrition standards for key nutrients. USDA collects and publishes interesting data that tracks changes and helps identify what Americans need to work on. Only about 10% of Americans eat the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables, and they tend to overeat refined carbohydrates, which includes sugar.   Protein is one nutrient that Americans get mostly right — in which 15% of the calories in the American diet comes from protein.  

Data Sources: What We Eat in America, NHANES 2007-2010 for average intakes by age-sex group. Healthy U.S.-Style Food Patterns, which vary based on age, sex, and activity level, for recommended intake ranges.

With beef’s important contribution to protein and other essential nutrients such as leucine for muscle building, iron, and B12, cattle producers should better understand and embrace the data for how the recommendation for protein is calculated. 

The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for protein is based on the minimum amount to eat for a healthy diet or 10% of total calories. The suggested range is listed at 10-35% of total calories.  For adults, the reference man is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 154 pounds. The reference woman is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 126 pounds even though in 2016 the average and median weight for U.S. adult man was 197.1 pounds and for women was 170.3 pounds. People who weigh more have higher calorie needs, so protein needs also increase. For comparison, the reference man calculates optimal protein needs of 56 grams but using his average weight, 10% of calories would be 72 grams protein, or an additional 2.2 ounces of steak per day. Some research suggests protein intake for optimal performance should be higher to preserve muscle mass as people age and have the strength needed at all stages of life, as well as spreading our intake among all meals instead of our current pattern of eating more at supper.

It is a myth that Americans eat too much protein in this country. 

NCBA is closely monitoring the dietary guidelines process to ensure that all decisions are science-based, and that anti-animal agriculture activists do not try and skew the process in their favor. Some activist groups have proposed including “sustainability” considerations in the new guidelines – code for saying that beef consumption should be heavily reduced or eliminated. Eliminating meat from the world’s diets does not significantly impact climate change, and it will make the world’s consumers less healthy and more at risk for malnutrition.  

Nutrition-related diseases kill about 4,300 people daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In general, Americans are consuming too many calories, are not meeting food group and nutrient recommendations, and are not getting adequate physical activity. It is important Americans know how beef can fit into a healthy eating plan, and be aware of how is it being compared and discussed. 

For further information about the U.S. dietary guidelines: