The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are finally out. Yeah, I know, not everyone suspended eating awaiting their debut. Nevertheless, the guidelines are an excellent source on what scientific evidence suggests we eat, and it seems this seventh edition of the guidelines is moving towards more clarity on several key nutrition issues.
I was listening in on the press conference in which agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius unveiled the new guidelines this Monday morning, and it was refreshing and sobering to hear the not great and not-really-news: Our population faces an epidemic of overweight and obesity, and therefore the main theme of the new guidelines is eat less!
Here are the main messages:
Eat more of:
What’s really lacking in the American diet? Not protein, certainly not fat, and vitamin deficiencies are not an issue either. What we need more of is fruits and veggies. The guidelines have a practical message for consumers:
“Make half your plate fruits and vegetables”Other key recommendations: Eat at least half your grains as whole-grain, increase intake of low-fat or fat-free milk and its products, replace high fat meats with low fat ones.
Eat less of:
Salt: although an essential nutrient, virtually all Americans consume more sodium than they need – we take in approximately 3,400 mg per day, when the upper limit should be 2.300 mg. The upper suggested limit is actually 1,500 for African-Americans, people over the age of 50, and those of us with hypertension, diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease – these subgroups together add up to more than half the population.
Most of the sodium in the American diet comes from prepared and processed foods, therefore the only way to reduce sodium in a meaningful way right now is to eat less processed foods and cook at home. Beyond that, it’s up to food manufacturers: “An immediate, deliberate reduction in the sodium content of foods in the marketplace is necessary to allow consumers to reduce sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg or 1,500 mg per day now”, says the report.
Sugar: Added sugars make up about 16 percent of the total calories in American diets, and in an obese society the first thing to cut should be these empty calories. The guidelines state that “the major sources of added sugars in the diets of Americans are soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks”, and therefore one of the key messages of the report is:
“Drink water instead of sugary drinks”Other foods to reduce: saturated (solid) fats (to less than 10 percent of total calories), trans fats, cholesterol, refined grains and alcohol.
Here’s an interesting piece of advice: “Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium.” Can you name the food to be limited? Perhaps the image prefacing the chapter (see below) can help name that-which-should-not-be-named.
Enjoy your food
The selected messages for consumers one-page contains a sentence that is quite intriguing:
“Enjoy your food. But eat less.”What do the authors mean? Are they consoling us with the reassurance that moderation and living with less (calories) can still be enjoyable? I actually read something completely different into this piece of advice: Make your meals really enjoyable – buy good ingredients, eat in company, have a nicely set table and good conversation around it, eat mindfully – and you’ll find you need less food.
Secretary Vilsack admitted that he didn’t use to read the guidelines or pay much heed to their advice in the past, but nowadays many more Americans – Including Vilsack himself – care a lot more about what they eat, and many more accept the fact that a poor diet is linked to many illnesses and shorter lives. These guidelines are the basis of educational materials (including a new food pyramid that will be published later this year) and policies, such as the federal nutrition assistance and school lunch programs. So these guidelines do matter.
Do you pay attention to the guidelines? What advice would you like to see in them?
Full disclosure: I’m vice president of product development for Herbal Water, where we make organic herb-infused waters that have zero calories and no sugar or artificial ingredients. I’m also a pediatrician and have been promoting good nutrition and healthy lifestyle for many years.