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Feb 16, 2011

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Making Your Food Choices Work for You

Simple changes for a healthier diet.

From flashy TV ads featuring fast food chains to media gurus touting quick weight-loss and suspect supplements, we are continually bombarded with information about food.  But, what’s absent in this clutter is the sound nutritional advice adults and children need to make everyday healthy eating choices. To address this need, the federal government periodically distills the latest and best research on nutrition and health into a set of concrete recommendations known as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The newly-released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans focuses on a few key messages:

  • Enjoy your food but eat less. The majority of American adults and one in three children in this country is overweight or obese. Therefore, this edition of the Dietary Guidelines stresses the importance of achieving a healthy weight and balancing food consumption with physical activity.
  • Avoid oversized portions. Americans consume 16% more food (523 calories) each day than they did 40 years ago. Since the number of meals eaten away from home has doubled over the same time period, at least some of this increase can be traced to the “super-sizing” trend in restaurant portions. Packaged food has gone through a similar transformation over the years.
  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Plant-based foods--especially red, yellow, and dark green vegetables, peas, beans, and fresh fruits--pack in nutrients without adding excess fat or sugar to your meal.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines advocate getting less than 10% of total fat from saturated fats, which are found mostly in foods from animal sources.  Reduced-fat dairy products supply healthy amounts of protein and calcium while limiting saturated fat.
  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and chose the foods with lower numbers. Excess sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure as well as the increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and kidney damage. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines peg the upward limit on daily sodium consumption at 2300mg. Furthermore, they recommend that the majority of adults and many children keep their intake at 1500mg (the amount in 2/3 teaspoon of salt) based on their heart disease risk factors.  Over 75% of the sodium most people get comes from packaged foods, so paying closer attention to the labels on these items is a good place to start cutting back.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks. Beverages with added sugar such as soda, sports drinks, and sweetened fruit juice add extra calories without the benefit of increased nutrition. Replacing sugary drinks with water at meals and to quench thirst throughout the day can reduce calories and help you stay hydrated.

In addition to these eating tips, the Guidelines contain 23 recommendations for all people, plus seven more for special populations such as pregnant women. A new version USDA Food Pyramid that reflects the current guidelines will also be available soon. To read the complete 2010 Dietary Guidelines, go to www.dietaryguidelines.gov.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What role does physical activity play in health and nutrition?
  • Regular physical activity is important for both children and adults. Based on the high rates of obesity, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that most Americans reduce their food intake and increase their physical activity level. Even people who are overweight can derive health benefits from engaging in some level of activity.

    According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

    • Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
    • Optimum exercise levels for adults includes:
      • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.
      • Activity spread across the week with periods of aerobic exercise of at least 10 minutes at a time.
      • Muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days a week.
  • What is the relationship between eating patterns and good nutrition?
  • Some research suggests that children and teens who skip breakfast are at higher risk for becoming overweight. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that all people eat a healthy breakfast. Snacks should consist of nutritious, non-processed foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, and low-fat dairy products instead of candy or fast food.  In addition, both children and adults should limit TV and other “screen time,” which is often accompanied by unhealthy snacking.
  • Should I eat seafood?
  • The 2010 Dietary Guidelines encourage everyone to eat at least 2 servings (8 oz) of seafood a week. The health benefits of fish and shellfish as a source for low-fat protein heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids outweigh the risks from mercury and other pollutants, which are sometimes found in these foods.

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