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How the Nation's Nutrition Panel Thinks You Should Be Eating

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Ease up on sugar and saturated fats — but don't worry so much about cholesterol

Alexandra Sifferlin is a writer for TIME. She covers public health issues including infectious and chronic disease, big ideas in medicine, and breaking news.

New recommendations for U.S. dietary guidelines released on Thursday included the surprise suggestion that cholesterol should not be a nutrient of special concern—but added that sugar and saturated fat are still worth worrying about.

In a move that happens only every five years, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, an independent group of 14 experts advising Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), released a proposed update for what Americans should be eating. The proposal is over 500 pages long, but summed up the guidelines as follows:

"The U.S. population should be encouraged and guided to consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and non-fat dairy products and alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains. These dietary patterns can be achieved in many ways and should be tailored to the individual’s biological and medical needs as well as socio-cultural preferences."

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One nutrient was obviously missing: cholesterol. The committee confirmed that cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern, which is great news for egg lovers. As TIME reported last week, evidence shows the amount of cholesterol coming from food isn’t really that worrisome.

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The recommendations do come down pretty hard on saturated fat—recommending less than 10% of total calories from saturated fat per day—but they don’t recommend against cutting down on total fat as they have in the past. Guidelines launched in 1980 helped boost the low-fat craze of the 2000s.

“To decrease saturated fat, one needs to reduce the intake of foods high in saturated fat,” says vice chair of the committee Alice Lichtenstein of Tufts University in an email to TIME. “Hence, the recommendation is to primarily choose low and non-fat dairy products and lean meat. Otherwise, there is no recommendation to reduce total fat intake or use fat free foods.”

That didn’t sit well with some, since some research suggests saturated fat doesn’t deserve our level of fixation. “They don’t move at all on the issue of what kinds of fats to eat. They continue to recommend limiting saturated fat and supporting polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats,” Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, said. “I would have liked the guidelines to be a little more neutral on saturated fat.” The form of fats that remain a source of concern are trans fats. (Nissen was also not on the committee).

MORE Know Right Now: Why Low-Fat Diets Might Not Solve Your Health Problems

But overall, nutrition experts were satisfied with the guidelines. “Wow. I love it. Really I am impressed,” says Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “The emphasis seems to be ‘here is what your diet should look like overall and if it looks like this, you can’t go very wrong.’ The question is how we rally around it and how effectively it survives the political process.” (Katz was not on the advisory committee).

The new guidelines touch on sustainability, and the fact that the average American diet has a high environmental impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and land, energy and water use. They note that a diet that’s better for the environment is high in plant-based foods and lower in calories and animal-based foods. Some examples of these diets are the Mediterranean diet, a healthy vegetarian diet and a healthy U.S.-style diet.

The committee also reviewed highly caffeinated beverages like energy drinks and concluded that there is still not enough evidence on their safety, but that limited data suggest health problems like caffeine toxicity and cardiovascular events are possible. The committee says they should not be consumed by kids. The group also reviewed the sugar supplement aspartame, and said that while it appears safe, there may be some risks that deserve further research.

The new recommendations, which were decided on by an independent group of 14 experts, still have to undergo a review before getting the green light from Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. The public is also urged to provide comments at http://www.DietaryGuidelines.gov.

Read next: 6 Facts About Saturated Fat That Will Astound You

Which is better for you: Half cup of ice cream or 3 scoops of sorbet? Getty Images (4)
Answer: A half cup of ice cream If you eat what you’re craving, you’re more likely to feel satisfied and eat less. And scoop for scoop sorbet contains twice the sugar with none of the filling dairy protein and fat. Getty Images (5); Gif by Mia Tramz for TIME
Which is better for you: Real butter or spray on fake butter? Getty Images; Tara Johnson for TIME
Answer: Butter Serving size for spray butters (even low-calorie ones) are around a 1/3 second spray. What on earth does that mean? You're better off using a small amount of real butter as opposed to guessing how much you're using of the mystery melange of up to 20 ingredients. Getty Images (1); Gif by Mia Tramz for TIME
Which is better for you: A turkey burger or a sirloin burger? Getty Images (2)
Answer: Sirloin burger Restaurant turkey burgers are often made with dark meat and the skin, so they’re not necessarily better for you (and for the record, they aren't low-fat). You can get a sirloin burger that’s 95% lean meat and gives you 20 g of protein. Just be careful with the toppings. Getty Images (1); Gif by Mia Tramz for TIME
Which is better for you: Almonds or pretzels? Getty Images (2)
Answer: Almonds Almonds are high in protein, fiber and fat and will keep you feeling fuller longer. Give high-sodium pretzels about an hour and you'll feel hungry again thanks to the high-carb no-fat or protein content. Getty Images (1); Gif by Mia Tramz for TIME
Which is better for you: Special K or eggs? AP; Getty Images
Answer: Eggs In the morning, you want a meal that will fill you up. Eggs offer protein and fat for satiety, but Special K cereal really only offers carbs and, well, air. If you want carbs to kick off the day, you're better off pairing eggs with a slice of 100% whole grain toast. Getty Images (1); Gif by Mia Tramz for TIME
Which is better for you: Fat free salad dressing or regular salad dressing? Tara Johnson for TIME
Answer: Regular salad dressingTo absorb fat soluble vitamins like Vitamins E and K in vegetables you need to consume them with a fat to aid nutrient absorption. Fat-free dressing, meanwhile, is low-calorie but gets its flavor from added sugar and salt. Tara Johnson for TIME (5); Gif by Mia Tramz for TIME
Which is better for you: A low fat cookie or dark chocolate? Getty Images (2)
Answer: Dark chocolate “People believe fat free is calorie free,” says Keri Gans, a registered dietitian in New York City. “Go for the real thing.” Fat free cookies tend to be high in carbs, sugar and fake sugar. Try a nice piece of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate instead. Getty Images (2); Gif by Mia Tramz for TIME
Which is better for you: Low fat Greek yogurt or 100 calorie Yoplait yogurt? Tara Johnson for TIME
Answer: 2% Greek YogurtA little fat is good in the morning to keep you full—plus it has upwards of 17g of protein per container. Fat-free "fruit" yogurt is high in sugar—7 to 10 g per serving—and lower in protein. Tara Johnson for TIME (2); Gif by Mia Tramz for TIME

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