According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released every 5 years, are the cornerstone of federal nutrition policy and nutrition education activities. The 2010 Guidelines have just been released in draft form. They are available for comment by anyone who would like to have input .1
The official goal of the Guidelines is to provide authoritative advice for people two years and older about how good dietary habits promote health and reduce chronic disease risk. So, in theory, these guidelines are applicable to pretty much everyone except babies and toddlers.
Playing Politics with Our Food
In reality, the guidelines may serve more than people. Lobbies for producers of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, alcohol, dairy, and fat-laden snack foods have inserted their priorities into policies that should reflect only the science.
This year, it appears some progress has been made in dodging the political influence of Guidelines past. For example, previous Guidelines state “use sugar in moderation.” Who the heck knows what “use in moderation” means anyway?
The proposed 2010 guidelines now state that we should all “significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats.” At least this version of the Guidelines states the obvious. We all need to eat less sugar. We don’t need to “eat sugar moderately.” Given that two-thirds of American adults are overweight and obese, Americans have no idea how do eat much of anything moderately. The shift to plainly stating “eat less” is a much needed change.
Also encouraging is that the guidelines recommend further reductions in sodium (salt) intake, from 2,400 mg (2.4 grams) per day down to 1,500 mg. This clearly targets the processed food industry. Processed foods account for nearly all of the excess sodium that Americans eat every day, to the great detriment of our health.
Why Not Get Real?
Despite these small signs of improvement, I don’t believe the Dietary Guidelines give us enough real information about what we really should be eating. Instead of stating we need to eat less sodium – only 1,500 mg per day – why not say, eat less processed food, the major source of sodium.
I’d love to see the guidelines move from “significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats” to clearly delineating the foods with too much sugar and fat. Why not spell it out? The “soft,” politically correct approach does not work. We need facts about food.
How would this look? “Don’t eat cookies, cake, pies, soda pop, donuts, fast food, French fries, chips, crackers, sugary cereals, pop tarts, candy bars, or anything else that does not look like real food, except as a special treat, no more than a couple of times per week.”
I’m not a food police type, which is why you see the disclaimer “as a special treat” in my example. If you really love your junk food (and who doesn’t), enjoy it a couple of times per week. I won’t say “eat your favorite junk food in moderation,” because for many, moderation means once or twice per day, when it needs to mean once or twice per week.
Why Not Get to Food?
And we need to address elephant in the room: why are we focusing on nutrients rather than food? Why do the Dietary Guidelines say, “decrease saturated fat from 10% of daily calories to 7% of daily calories?” By focusing on single nutrients as a focus for improving health, we miss the boat. We don’t need a label or a guideline to tell us that eating more oatmeal, apples, black beans, and carrots is a good idea.
I do applaud the USDA and HHS for trying to translate the guidelines into what we should eat: “Shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In addition, increase the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products and consume only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs.”
It’s a start, but even this doesn’t spell it out in a way that helps us understand how to eat for better health. What would serve us all better are practical tips, such as:
Other than as a treat once or twice per week, avoid foods that don’t look like something that came off the vine, out of the ground, or from a tree. For example, instead of eating corn chips, eat corn on the cob or whole, frozen corn kernels. Eat a whole apple instead of apple juice.
At every meal, place vegetables so they cover slightly more than one-third of your plate. Place fruits so they cover slightly less than one-third of your plate. Split the remaining one-third between protein, such as chicken, fish, or beef, and whole grains, such as brown rice or quinoa.
Start your day with a bowel of plain, whole oatmeal with a small handful of raisins or currants, a few walnuts, and a sprinkling of flax seeds.
Try a fruit smoothie with 1 scoop of plain protein powder, ½ cup strawberries, a banana, ice cubes, and ½ cup milk or soymilk as a snack. Or try carrots dipped in hummus or plain Greek-style (high protein) yogurt with berries and nuts.
Stop eating junk.
For article references, visit www.appleboost.com.
Latest posts by Suzanne Dixon (see all)
- Is Your Acidic Diet Killing You? - September 25, 2015
- 3 top phytonutrients you can’t live a healthy life without - July 19, 2010
- How U.S. Dietary Guidelines Fail You - July 9, 2010