Last month, the Obama administration released the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines are revised every 5 years with the purpose of helping us make healthy food and beverage choices and to serve as the foundation for vital nutrition policies and programs throughout the U.S. If you are interested in learning more, here is a link to the Executive Summary http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/executive-summary/
After sifting through the report, I have prepared some noteworthy points to highlight. Let’s start with how healthy eating is defined by the Guidelines:
- A variety of vegetables from all of the color groups–dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and others.
- Fruits, especially whole fruits
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
- Dairy foods (milk, yogurt, cheese and or fortified soy beverages), fat free or low fat
- A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds and soy products
- Oils, including those from plants: canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower.
This healthy eating plan is nothing new, it models the USDA MyPlate. But keep in mind, many people with a goal of ‘healthy eating’ may have cut dairy foods from their diets. These dairy foods are recommended to help meet the calcium, vitamin D and potassium needs for everyone— these are the nutrients we are not getting enough of. The Guidelines recommend 3 servings of dairy daily for everyone 9 years and older. One serving equals 1 cup milk or yogurt and 1-1/2 ounce of cheese.
Next, let’s look at what the guidelines suggest we limit in our eating. You may have already heard the big news: cut down on sugar and sodium and keep saturated fat intake ‘in check’. Saturated fat is found mostly in animal protein foods. By purchasing and preparing lean cuts of meat and varying your protein choices to include legumes and fish, this recommendation is manageable.
The sugar recommendation includes any sugar added to foods but does not include the natural sugar found in foods like fruit and dairy. The recommendation is to cap added sugar to about 12-1/2 teaspoons (50 grams) daily (that is, 10% of calories for a 2,000 calorie diet). This can add up quickly if you enjoy sweet desserts and sugared beverages. But please know that hidden sugar counts, too. Common sources include jarred pasta sauces, energy drinks, canned fruit, and breakfast cereals. Food labels are a valuable resource to determine the sugar content of packaged foods.
For sodium, the cap is 2,300 mg daily. This amount of sodium is found in a teaspoon of salt. To meet these guidelines, it does help to avoid the salt shaker at the table, but unfortunately a major part of the sodium in American diets (80%) comes from processed and packaged foods. These foods include: frozen meals, canned or pickled foods, snack foods, condiments, and soda. Cutting sodium from your diet may make foods suddenly taste bland. But over time, your taste for salt will adapt and you will be able to use less for the same flavor. It will also be important to rely on herbs and other seasonings to bring more flavor to your palette. That is how many recipes on this blog are seasoned!
Reading labels for both sodium and sugar content is the only way to know what you’re eating. However, eating foods without labels is the best kind of eating! The less processed, the better. Making small changes that stick with you over time is the best strategy for tackling these latest recommendations. As stated in the Guidelines, “A lifetime of healthy eating helps to prevent chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes… it is one of the most powerful tools we have”.