Every five years the USDA and the HHS (US Dept. of Health and Human Services) publishes its Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This explanation is just what it sounds like, a guide to help Americans follow a healthy diet. The information from these guidelines also appears as the Food Pyramid that we’re all familiar with. According to the USDA’s web site, “[The Guidelines] provide authoritative advice for people two years and older about how good dietary habits can promote health and reduce risk for major chronic diseases.”
In the latter part of 2010, the newest guidelines will be published. Prior to that, a lot of work is done to ensure that the most relevant and appropriate information is shared with the public. The Secretaries of each agency (Kathleen Sebelius at HHS and Tom Vilsack at USDA) create a committee comprised of 13 leading scientists to review the newest research in order to draft an advisory report that will then form the backbone of the newest guidelines.
This advisory report was just published, and offers an opportunity for public review before the document is finalized. Everyone from you to food lobbyists will have a chance to review, comment, and ultimately help shape the document. It is speculated that this version will be one of the boldest yet, with the rising obesity epidemic reflecting a great need for public education about nutrition.
“Obesity is the single greatest threat to public health in this century,” said Penelope Slade-Sawyer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the HHS, upon the release of this advisory report.
As such, the following eight guideline revisions are what appeared in the advisory report and a good example of what we can expect to see in the 2010 version.
- Consume less calories. This one shouldn’t come as news as it’s one of the most effective ways to control weight through eating. Most Americans eat far more than the average recommendation of 2,000 calories/day.
- Eat more plants. The report states that we should be eating more vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and legumes. Eliminating or reducing animal fats from your diet can have weight and heart health benefits.
- Eat more fish. While the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2005) suggests that people with heart disease consume two servings of fish per week, the new report suggests this for the population as a whole. The omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient that helps to ward off obesity-related heart disease.
- Eat low-fat dairy. Reduce consumption of saturated fat by switching from full-fat dairy (like whole milk) to low- or no-fat dairy (like 2% or skim milk).
- Eat animal proteins in moderation. This includes lean meat, poultry and eggs. When preparing a meal, focus on the plant-based food items and treat these proteins as side items.
- Reduce consumption of solid fats and sugars. Solid fats are those that solidify at room temperature (think butter). Reducing these as well as sugars (i.e. added, processed sugars found in candy; not natural sugars in fruit) can greatly help control calorie consumption.
- Reduce sodium and processed grains. Current guidelines recommend 2400 mg of sodium per day; the new guidelines have reduced that 1500. This is another item that Americans over-consume, and greatly contributes to heart disease, as its prominent in packaged, processed foods and over-sized restaurant foods. Processed grains, like those found in white bread or grocery store baked goods, have been stripped of the beneficial fiber and nutrients that are naturally found in whole grain products.
- Be more active. All of these dietary changes will only get you so far without exercise. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends adults take part in 2.5 hours of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.
- Children should limit screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours per day of media consumption (TV, video games, computers, etc.). Children are also discouraged from eating in front of the television.
- Adults should self-monitor body weight. This habit can have great results when actively losing or maintaining weight.
- Eat periodically through the day. This supports the idea of eating more frequent smaller meals during the day. Recommended to stay within calorie guidelines and eat nutrient-dense foods.
- Cook at home. Preparing, serving and consuming smaller portions of food at home greatly controls calories (not to mention your budget), and ensures consumption of fresher, more nutritious foods.
- Eat breakfast! Children and adults are encourages to eat breakfast daily with nutrient-dense foods, avoiding those that are processed.
You can view the report in its entirety here, and while there submit a written comment and review submitted comments.