Boiling down the dietary guidelines
Boiling down the dietary guidelines
In an environment that promotes high calorie, nutrient-poor foods with a more sedentary lifestyle, too many Americans are regularly eating too many calories. Hence, the obesity epidemic and the subsequent health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and certain cancers.
To turn this around, Americans must be more tuned in to the dietary guidelines. This means Americans must become mindful eaters — attentively choosing what and how much to eat in the context of their calorie requirements. In addition, Americans must begin eating smaller portions at home and when eating out.
Dietary guidelines: Closing the gap
Today as in the past, a gap exists between dietary guidelines and what Americans actually eat. Although most Americans take in too many calories, they eat too few vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains, seafood, and low-fat milk and milk products.
At the same time, Americans eat too much salt, added sugar, solid fats (major sources of saturated and trans fatty acids) and refined grains.
To address this problem, energy-dense foods — especially foods high in added sugar and solid fats — should be replaced with lower calorie, nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
Where to cut back
Sodium, solid fats (major sources of saturated and trans fatty acids), added sugars and refined grains are consumed in excess by most U.S. adults and children. In addition, the diets of most men exceed the recommendation for cholesterol.
Even if you aren't overweight or obese, consuming too much sodium, solid fats, saturated and trans fatty acids, cholesterol, and added sugars increases your risk of heart disease and other health problems.
Fat and cholesterol
Some proteins — namely, meat, poultry and eggs — contain solid fats. In contrast, the fats in seafood, nuts and seeds are healthier. The guidelines recommend eating two 4-ounce servings (or one 8-ounce serving) a week of seafood. In addition, Americans are encouraged to:
Added sugar and refined grains
Where to ramp up
Although a wide variety of nutritious foods are available in the U.S., Americans don't eat enough vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk and milk products. As a result, dietary intakes of several nutrients — potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D — are low enough to be of public health concern for both adults and children.
The best way to get enough of these and other nutrients, while still controlling calories, is to consume foods in nutrient-dense forms.
Nutrient-dense foods provide vitamins, mineral and other substances that have health benefits, with relatively few calories. They're lean or low in solid fats, and minimize or exclude added solid fats, sugars and refined starches, as these add calories but few essential nutrients or dietary fiber.
Nutrient-dense foods also minimize or exclude added salt or other compounds high in sodium. Ideally, they are in forms that retain naturally occurring components such as dietary fiber.
All vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans and peas (legumes), and nuts and seeds that are prepared without added solid fats, sugars, starches and sodium are nutrient dense.
Boiling it down
So where do you start? The guidelines suggest starting with changes in these three areas:
Foods to increase
Foods to reduce
Using the dietary guidelines as your map, you can make healthy choices that meet your nutritional needs, protect your health, and help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Last Updated: 2013-02-02
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