This week, the federal government announced its update to the nation's dietary guidelines.
Federal officials said the nutritional guidance promotes health, reduces the risk of chronic diseases, and reduces the prevalence of overweight and obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity.
But the question is, do the guidelines – which are developed in a process that includes intense lobbying from food industry lobbyists – offer new nutritional information for consumers?
The Center for Science in the Public Interest calls the guidelines an improvement. Nutrition Policy Director Margo G. Wootan said:
"This time around, the messages are clearer than in the past. Rather than simply saying ‘increase fruits and vegetables,’ the news guidelines recommend people fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables. Rather than just giving the vague advice to lower sugar intake, they now recommend drinking water in place of soda and other sugary drinks, which are by far the largest source of sugar in Americans' diets. Importantly, 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.’
"Another major difference is that Obama administration officials have done more than just publish a pamphlet, cross their fingers, and hope that Americans eat better. They're enacting stronger policies and programs-like improving school foods, requiring menu labeling in chain restaurants, and funding communities to promote healthy eating and physical activity-and urging food companies to improve their products and practices."
However, Wootan said stronger government actions are needed. “Without even more serious governmental efforts - such as banning artificial trans fat and limiting sodium in packaged foods – the dietary guidelines will not be sufficient to fend off the costly and debilitating diet-related illnesses that afflict millions of Americans.”
The 23 recommendations in the dietary guidelines are:
Balancing calories to manage weight
• Prevent and/or reduce overweight and obesity through improved eating and physical activity behaviors.
• Control total calorie intake to manage body weight. For people who are overweight or obese, this will mean consuming fewer calories from foods and beverages.
• Increase physical activity and reduce time spent in sedentary behaviors.
• Maintain appropriate calorie balance during each stage of life—childhood, adolescence, adulthood, pregnancy and breastfeeding, and older age.
Foods and food components to reduce
• Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. The 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults.
• Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
• Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol.
• Keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils, and by limiting other solid fats.
• Reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.
• Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially
refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium.
• If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation – up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men – and only by adults of legal drinking age.
Foods and nutrients to increase
Individuals should meet the following recommendations as part of a healthy eating pattern while staying within their calorie needs.
• Increase vegetable and fruit intake.
• Eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green and red and orange vegetables and beans and peas.
• Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains.
• Increase intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages.
• Choose a variety of protein foods, which include seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.
• Increase the amount and variety of seafood consumed by choosing seafood in place of some meat and poultry.
• Replace protein foods that are higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories and/or are sources of oils.
• Use oils to replace solid fats where possible.
• Choose foods that provide more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D, which are nutrients of concern in American diets. These foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk and milk products.
Building healthy eating patterns
• Select an eating pattern that meets nutrient needs over time at an appropriate calorie level.
• Account for all foods and beverages consumed and assess how they fit within a total healthy eating pattern.
• Follow food safety recommendations when preparing and eating foods to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.
Recommendations for specific groups also are included. Individuals ages 50 years and older are encourage to consume foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as fortified cereals, or dietary supplements.
The departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services will release more consumer-friendly advice and tools, including a next generation Food Pyramid, in the coming months.