Just in time for all those New Year’s resolutions, the federal government has released new dietary guidelines that zero in on America’s sweet tooth.
The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture recommended on Thursday that Americans consume less than 10% of their daily calories from added sugars, a far more specific suggestion than the previous one to simply “reduce” sugar consumption.
But overall, this year’s changes aren’t much of a switch. Other key recommendations remain largely unchanged:
- No more than a teaspoon of salt daily
- Less than 10% of calories from saturated fats
- And just one alcoholic drink daily or less (for women) or two (for men)
Though there had been some talk about recommendations for reducing red meat intake, the feds took a soft approach, suggesting merely that “lower intakes of meats, including processed meats; processed poultry; sugar-sweetened foods, particularly beverages; and refined grains have often been identified as characteristics of healthy eating patterns.”
But recent cancer science paints a bleaker picture: in October the World Health Organization said processed meats can cause cancer in humans, and suggested that red meat probably does too. And a new study from the University of Texas this month points to sugar as a breast cancer culprit. In British medical journal The Lancet this week, researchers found that reducing all added sugar in sweetened drinks by 40% could cut down on the number of overweight and obese adults in the U.K. by 1.5 million and reduce type 2 diabetes cases.
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Not that the recommendations do much to move the needle on the national diet. Diabetes rates in the U.S. and American sugar consumption have both skyrocketed since the recommendations were first introduced 35 years ago. Today, Americans consume about 20 teaspoons of sugar daily, according to the American Heart Association (the new recommendations are equivalent to about half that, at 12 tsp or less).
Though the new recommendations don’t skewer the meat industry, they did point to some alarming trends: teens and men (14-70) were called out for being a bit too meaty, eating 10-20 oz. more meat than they should each week. The guidelines said men of nearly all ages (19-70) are getting too much protein—while teen girls (14-18) are only getting about two-thirds of their recommended daily protein intake (adult women are also low on protein, but most meet suggested minimums).
The recommendations suggest the typical fixes of more dark green, red, and orange vegetables and leafy greens. They also include a focus on whole grains, less butter, more olive and canola oils, and more beans, eggs and nuts.
WATCH: How PepsiCo Helped Cut 6.4 Trillion Calories From The American Diet:
The guidelines often serve as a model for other nutrition plates and pyramids around the world. They also impact everything from FDA food labels (think “Nutrition Facts”) to public school lunch programs, recommendations at the doctor’s office, and what people are fed from the Defense Department and Veteran’s Affairs food programs to government assistance like SNAP and WIC.
Many have voiced their frustration with the process for creating the guidelines as overly politicized. This year, in addition to lobbyists, food producers and a panel of experts, more than 28,600 members of the public weighed in during the 75-day public comment period in the spring. Ultimately, a 14-member advisory committee, all nutritionists, epidemiologists and doctors working at universities around the country, created the new recommendations.
The FDA is still weighing its own proposed changes to Nutrition Facts labeling now, and says the agency will consider the new guidelines. But the sugar column on the proposed new “Nutrition Facts” label would still just measure sugar in grams, not as a percentage of daily value (%DV). So if consumers really want to limit their added sugar intake to 10% of overall daily calories, as the new guidelines suggest, they’ll have to do the dieting math themselves.