Yesterday the Department of Health and Human Services released the latest dietary guidelines. The 112 page document makes some important suggestions for the American diet. I was glad to see there was an emphasis on obesity and chronic disease prevention through diet and exercise. This is exactly why I’m in school and what I hope to tackle when I leave.
Here are a few key takeaways…
Calorie balance: maintain calorie balance to keep weight under control. This should be achieved through both food intake and physical activity. The overall recommendation is to EAT LESS AND MOVE MORE! Nothing groundbreaking, but since this will serve as a guide for many nutrition and health communication campaigns, it’s an important point to make.
Consume nutrient dense foods:
- Increase intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meat, and fish/seafood
- Eat foods that have a high water and fiber content – they tend to be less calorie dense and contain more nutrients
- Limit intake of foods high in total fat, saturated fat, and added sugars.
- Replace refined grains with whole grains
- Replace sugar-sweetened beverages with water
I was excited to see the emphasis on eating foods in their natural form as well as maintaining calorie balance through both eating less (and the right foods) and exercising. I also applaud the committee for outwardly highlighting the need to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (of all kinds).
Like many others in the nutrition and policy world, I found it frustrating (though not terribly surprising) that after doing such a great job of discussing the need to increase consumption of specific foods the committee moved to food components when discussing foods to limit. Instead of saying stop eating chips, candy, and processed junk they talk about reducing sugar, sodium, and fat content. And what about meat? Encouraging people to eat more fish, beans, and lean protein doesn’t quite get at the fact that Americans eat way too much red meat. Certainly, this was avoided on purpose – the government cannot blatantly criticize the beef industry. Though, I do wish they could.
There is a wealth of information in this report, much of which is intended to guide nutrition education and promotion programs. Most of the information will not end up being consumer facing, however. There are a few key messages designed specifically for consumers. The focus is on reducing portion sizes and eating more fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy. These are certainly important messages for the average American, but we will need to ensure a few things before we can expect them to make changes:
1. They have access to the recommended food
2. They know how to add the recommended foods into an overall diet
3. They understand what a portion size is
I hope the pyramid or whatever other image that is developed over the next few months will at least address items 2 and 3.
Please share your thoughts on the new guidelines if you like!
- Your food and fitness friend