More plants. More whole grains. Less meat. The USDA’s 2010 update to its nutrition guidelines recommends a diet that sounds like it’s straight out of a Michael Pollan essay, but how do they affect you? Well, the guidelines, which are updated every five years, provide nutrition advice and advocate a diet that will reduce the nation’s risks for heart disease, cancer and diabetes. The recommendations are also used as a standard in federal programs, like U.S. school breakfasts and lunches. Here are 5 things you need to know about the new guidelines.
1. More Plants
To help boost nutrients while scaling back on calories, it’s recommended that Americans eat more plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Fish, poultry and lean meats are still encouraged, but in smaller portions. This is nothing new to the guidelines, but the emphasis will be increased in the revised version.
2. More Information
The guidelines acknowledge that there’s an obesity epidemic in this country (everyone already knows this, but at least the USDA is addressing it!). To tackle this national problem, there are initiatives for policy change, improved access to food, and more nutrition education. Strategies for specific plans to help Americans take better care of themselves are in progress. These plans look beyond the individual and make suggestions for the food industry. For example, one of the goals is to “encourage restaurants and the food industry to offer health-promoting foods that are low in sodium; limited in added sugars, refined grains, and solid fats; and served in smaller portions.”
3. Less “SoFAS”
SoFAS stands for “solid fats” (like lard, butter and trans fats) and “added sugars.” Since foods high in SoFAS typically contain excess calories and few nutrients, Americans should cut back. According to the guidelines, calories from SoFAS currently make up 35 percent of the American diet. Eating less of these foods can lead to less overall calories while making room for more healthy foods. The goal is to limit sweets as much as possible and to cut artery-clogging saturated fat to less than 7 percent of total calories (this is down from 10 percent in the 2005 recommendations).
4. Shortfall Nutrients
Vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and dietary fiber — Americans aren’t getting enough of these major nutrients. The guidelines suggest a nutrient-rich breakfast and healthy snacking to help meet daily needs.
5. Move It!
The goal for Americans is to meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines (which vary for different age groups). They can be downloaded at the US Department for Health and Human Services website.
Other focus points include increased attention to food safety issues and cutting back on sodium.
For more information or to review and comment on the new guidelines visit the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion section of the USDA website. The USDA will be reviewing public comments for the next month.
TELL US: Will the new dietary guidelines change the way you eat?
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana’s full bio »