The Dietary Guidelines and You

Have you read the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010? If not, that’s why I’m here! These are very important goals and recommendations for the way we eat, but the practical application is not always clear. Once again, I’m here for you!


The Dietary Guidelines and You – Podcast Transcript

Hi and welcome to Nutritionally Speaking! I’m your host Michaela Ballmann.  To kick off National Nutrition Month I am going to be talking about the New Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 that were released on January 31st of this year.  The Dietary Guidelines have been jointly published by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) every 5 years since 1980. These guidelines are based on research and data of the country’s population as well as previous recommendations, and are formulated to help the American people have better health and quality of life through healthy diet and nutrition. They are also the basis for Federal food and nutrition education programs.

Ok, I’m sure you’re saying “That’s enough background info! Can you please get to the point!” I’d be glad to! The two primary concepts of this edition of the Dietary Guidelines are: (1) Maintain calorie balance over time to achieve and sustain a healthy weight; and (2) Focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages. In order to make the first statement a reality, the majority of people need to exercise more and reduce their calorie intake, which ties into the second statement.  If Americans eat less calorie dense foods (typically refined and high in fat, sugar, and salt) and replace these foods with nutrient-dense foods (like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and lean meat and meat substitutes), our calorie intake will drop as a result and we will attain and maintain a healthy weight.


The Dietary Guidelines Key Recommendations

Besides these overarching principles, the Dietary Guidelines come with some key recommendations.  As expected, sodium was targeted as a main dietary component to reduce.  For about half the population, the amount of Na has remained stable at 2300mg or less, but for the other half, who are 51 years of age or older and those of any age who are African American or have HTN, DM, or chronic kidney disease, it is recommended that Na intake is reduced to 1500 mg per day.  That is quite a significant drop!  Like previous years, we are to continue to aim for <10% of kcals from saturated fat, <300mg dietary cholesterol, as little as possible trans fats, and limited amounts of solid fats, added sugar and refined grains.  When they say “solid fats” they are talking about fats that are solid at room temperature—saturated fat (lard, butter), and trans fats (partially hydrogenated margarines and such).  It’s much better to use oils, which in contrast are mono-or poly- Unsaturated and liquid at room temperature.

Enough about what we can’t eat! Ok, I’ve saved the best for last.  Now I get to tell you about all the vegetables that you can eat, the yummy olive oil that can replace butter, the low-fat or fat-free greek yogurt with berries, and those lean cuts of meat or eggs with whole wheat toast.  Isn’t it great all the wonderful things that the Guidelines would like you to eat? I’m not feeling deprived!

A very important recommendation that I don’t want to overlook is that of developing a healthy eating pattern.  To quote from the guidelines directly, “Select an eating pattern that meets nutrient needs over time at an appropriate calorie level”; it continues by saying “Account for all foods and beverages consumed and assess how they fit within a total healthy eating pattern”.  In other words, make healthy eating your lifestyle.  It needs to fuel your day, whether that means fueling a day of work at a desk or fueling a day moving about a factory, or whatever it may be.  It needs to be sustainable.  This is not a crash diet that you go on to lose 20 pounds overnight and gain it back the next morning.  Also, don’t fret so much about each ingredient, each little thing.  Rather, step back and take an objective look at your overall diet.  Are you getting enough fruits and vegetables? How about dairy or dairy substitutes? Are the fats you are choosing to eat primarily mono- and poly-unsaturated, like olive and canola oil, nuts, and avocados? Are you finding it easier to pick up the whole wheat loaf of bread at the market? Are you making time to exercise and plan your meals?  Is your diet balanced in the amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat?


Dietary Guidelines and balancing calorie intake

The Dietary Guidelines committee created some take-home messages regarding balancing calorie intake, and foods to increase and reduce.  Let me try to help you make practical applications of these guidelines to YOUR life.

Enjoy your food, but eat less.  Seriously, enjoy your food.  Sit down, take a deep breath, and enjoy the process of smelling, chewing, and swallowing.  If you take 30 minutes for a meal in which you are present in the moment, you will not eat as much as if you were to eat mindlessly while driving, reading, or watching tv.  If you incorporate more nutrient-dense foods like we talked about earlier, you will also fill up more on the water and fiber in these foods and will eat less naturally.  Remember, this is not about deprivation.

Avoid oversized portions.  This might also mean, eat out less and cook more at home.  We all have been amazed or even shocked by the size of plates being used at some restaurants these days and the amount of food served.  This, clearly, is more than one needs to eat at a meal.  If you cannot keep yourself from cleaning your plate, it is helpful to either avoid restaurants that serve gargantuan portions (which is getting harder to do) or ask for a take-out box when you get your food and keep only the amount you need on your plate.

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.  If you look at your dinner plate (and I’m not talking a 15” plate here), visualize a line that cuts the plate in half.  Fill one half with fruits and veggies.  Next take the other half of the plate and visualize another line that cuts this segment in half.  Fill one of these sections with whole grains and the other with lean protein.  There you go! That’s your meal! Not too hard, right?

Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk. If you are still drinking whole milk, it is probably time to start trying to accustom your tastebuds to a lower amount of fat.  It really isn’t as painful as it may sound.  Try mixing half of a cup of 2% milk with ½ cup of whole milk and see how that is.  Next time you drink milk, continue to make a larger proportion of that cup 2% milk.  Before you know it, you’ll be drinking 2%.  Then, you can do the same thing with 1% and even fat-free.  Slow, steady changes are usually more successful than going cold turkey.  Low-fat soymilk is another good option if you are lactose intolerant or vegan.

Compare sodium in foods and choose the foods with lower numbers.  For the most part, I agree with this.  Many frozen meals, canned foods, soups, and breads contain a lot of sodium, and you won’t even miss the salt in the lower-sodium varieties.  However, I have noticed that when salt is reduced, particularly in soups, sugar is added.  Make sure to read the label, and try to pick low sodium foods that are also low in sugar.

Lastly, drink water instead of sugary drinks.  No joke, people! Just making this one change will make a HUGE difference in the way you feel, your health, and your nutrition status.  Start weaning yourself off sodas, coffee drinks, and even fruit juice (it’s so much better to eat the actual fruit) and you will be consuming less calories, or you can replace these drinks with nutrient-dense foods.  You won’t get those sugar highs and lows, and you will probably crave sugar less too!


That’s it for today! If you have any comments or questions feel free to email me or go to my website.  Thanks again for listening and Happy National Nutrition Month everyone!


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