What the New Dietary Guidelines Mean for You

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The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are published every five years and the 2010 Guidelines just hit the headlines in the last couple of weeks. It is a huge document – over 600 pages created by the Dietary Guidelines Committee which is made up of scientists who work to summarize peer-reviewed scientific studies about what we eat and how it impacts our health. The abridged version is 112 pages so we thought that you may want the nuts and bolts of the guidelines instead– here goes!

For the first time, the Dietary Guidelines are not just aimed at apparently healthy Americans. They are now also aimed at Americans living with chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Healthcare costs are skyrocketing and overweight and obesity contributes significantly to those high costs. The Dietary Guidelines aim to give Americans the tools they need to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

The main points are:

  • Balance your calories – enjoy your food but eat smaller portions.
  • Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk
  • Choose lower sodium varieties of packaged foods so that you can stay within the optimal sodium level of 1500mg/day.
  • Eat less sugar. One of the primary ways to reduce sugar intake is to drink water instead of sugary drinks.

This is also the first time that the Dietary Guidelines focus on the fact that following these guidelines can be very challenging. For many people, especially in low income neighborhoods, it is easier to get high calorie foods like chips and candy bars than it is to find fresh fruit and vegetables. It can be difficult to get exercise in unsafe neighborhoods. School lunches need to be more nutritious and it can be challenging to make healthy choices in restaurants when calorie information is not available. There is also aggressive marketing and availability of high calorie foods that are loaded with saturated fat, salt, white flour and added sugars.

As a Registered Dietitian and a strong proponent of whole foods, I am much happier with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines than I have been with the past versions. It seems that the guidelines are actually giving practical strategies like telling people to fill half of their plate with fruits and vegetables. I also really appreciate that the Guidelines call for “an immediate, deliberate reduction in the sodium content of foods” and for “effective policies to limit food and beverage marketing to children.”

One of the things I felt proudest about as I read the Dietary Guidelines is that Zing Bars easily make the grade. When eaten as a snack, they often lead to fewer calories consumed in a day. They are high in unsaturated fats from nuts, and they are an excellent balance of high fiber carbohydrate, lean protein and healthy fats. Some of them even contain organic fruit. Just put a serving of veggies on the side (or double your veggie servings at your next meal) and you are following the guidelines beautifully. Oh, and don’t forget to move your body before or after you eat one…I find that a rousing game of Tag with the kids fits the bill. Enjoy!