New Nutrition Advice From Government: Enjoy Your Food, But Eat Less

 

 vegetable plate

Marjeliion flickr.com

At last.  The much-anticipated 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans have been released.  They’re a bit late (as you tell by the 2010 moniker) but they’re here.  And now the real work begins — translating this policy into practice. 

In reality, the nutrition advice is not all that different from the last version 5  years ago.  Obesity is a bigger deal in 2010, and that was reflected by the first-ever emphasis on eating less.  Surprisingly, we’ve not had such a straightforward mandate. Now, 4 of the 23  key recommendations are related to balancing calories to manage weight.

“Discretionary calories,” a term from the 2005 guidelines that was never fully understood has morphed into “solid fats and added sugars,” which is probably another equally confusing concept.  This twosome (dubbed SoFAS)  is the biggest source of nonessential calories in the American diet — or foods that offer very little nutritionally besides calories.

Solid fats (major sources of saturated and trans fats) supply 19% of our total calories, with grain-based desserts as the biggest contributor — from butter, shortening and hydrogenated stick margarine.  Heavily-marbled meats are also major suppliers of solid fats.  Added sugars currently supply 16% of our total calories, and no surprise, the biggest contributors are soda, energy drinks and sports drinks.


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USDAgov on flickr.com

Keep in mind, what was announced today was the policy document from USDA and HHS.  This is intended to provide the scientific rationale to drive federal nutrition policy, including food and menu labeling, improving school foods and public health promotion.  What will be really meaningful is the consumer education initiative, which will be launched in the spring (an update of MyPyramid, which could be a pyramid or something new entirely).  Even so, I was glad to see that the committee spent time trying to boil down the 95-page report into some consumer take-home messages:

Balancing Calories

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less
  • Avoid oversized portions

Foods to Increase

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk

Foods to Reduce

  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals — and choose the foods with lower numbers
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks

How great to see “enjoyment” even be part of the equation.   Sometimes that’s overlooked.  But I think that’s so important to emphasize.  You can still eat healthy and enjoy the food you eat.  Nutritious can be delicious.  How great would it be if the press conference today featured actual food — instead of the stark stage where Secretaries Vilsack and Sibelius gave their speeches to unveil the new guidelines. 

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USDAgov on flickr.com

After all, we eat food, not nutrients.  Probably the greatest advice of all was the call to action to make half your plate fruits and vegetables.  That’s a strong, actionable message.  That’s what we need.  We need to translate the science into small action steps that can truly change the way America eats. 

So bottom line, the new guidelines say we need to eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lowfat dairy and seafood.  We need to consume  more calcium, vitamin D, potassium and dietary fiber – nutrients of concern in American diets. And the same time, we must reduce salt, solid fats, added sugar and refined grains.  That’s a tall order. 

This can all be overwhelming.  Even Secretary Vilsack admitted he hadn’t read the guidelines until he got the job with the USDA.  Hello, I wish you would have kept that to yourself.  How do we expect the public to take notice if you didn’t view them worthy until you were paid to help revise them?

I totally applaud the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  Now we need to offer solutions to help the public make them real.  That comes down to helping people know what to pack for lunch and put on the plate at dinner.  We need to better arm the public with specific solutions to make these guidelines a reality.

Keeping it real and making it enjoyable is a good place to start.

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