A step in the right direction: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010

Yesterday, the U.S. government released The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. This document is produced every five years, and has a reputation for being vague and heavily influenced by agri-business. In my opinion, the 2010 guidelines — although lacking in some ways — have a more accurate view of the state of health in the U.S. and the recommendations promote better nutrition and dietary habits than in past years.

The document is full of charts, the language is simple and direct, and most pages include bright colors. It’s clear the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the departments that produce the document, wanted this report to be accessible to the public-at-large. However, with 98 pages of text and 16 appendices accounting for 22 of those pages, it’s not something the average American is going to read. Instead, it states, “The information in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is used in developing educational materials and aiding policymakers in designing and carrying out nutrition-related programs, including Federal food, nutrition education, and information programs.”

If this is the case and the USDA uses the report for developing additional materials, the new Food Pyramid that is expected to be released in a few months might actually be more helpful than the current one. I don’t know about you, but I think a stick figure walking up a staircase doesn’t convey much information about good nutrition.

Back to the subject of this report, regarding nutrition in The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, the report makes the following suggestions for healthy Americans between the ages of 2 and 50 who are not trying to get pregnant, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding. From the “Executive Summary”:

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.

The report also includes recommendations for children, vegetarians, vegans, the elderly, and people suffering from chronic health conditions. I believe it is certainly a step in the right direction, and the document is worth reading if you’re interested in diet and nutrition or U.S. food policy. If you read it, I’m interested in learning about your opinions of the document in our comment section of this post.

4 comments posted

  1. Posted by Josh - 02/01/2011

    If you try to reduce saturated fat in your diet, by choosing low-fat foods, you usually end up with more sugar. If I had to choose between saturated fat and sugar, I’d eat the saturated fat.

    I’m also not sure about increasing polyunsaturated fats. Most likely these will be omega-6 fats, and we already eat far too many of these in comparison to omega-3s.

  2. Posted by Erin Doland - 02/01/2011

    @Josh — I agree completely about polyunsaturated fats. Unless you’re able to keep up Omega-3s above Omega-6s, those 6s aren’t great.

    I’m in agreement with you about sugar, when the sugar is sucrose. I worry a lot less about sugar when it’s fructose, especially when its in fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. And glucose, when it’s in non-refined whole grains, is less of worry in my opinion. Still, not all whole grains are created equal, and some are definitely lower in glucose (dextrose) than others. Knowing exactly how much sugar (those -ose words) is in the foods you eat is always a good idea.

  3. Posted by jbeany - 02/01/2011

    Wow, an actual recommendation to reduce grains. That took them long enough… when are they going to drop that 11 servings a day of grains recommendation anyhow? Whole grain helps, but it’s still not enough when you’re eating 11 pieces of toast a day! Hopefully they change it before our combined weight sinks the continent….

  4. Posted by Ginger - 03/14/2011

    I attended a webinar at work with one of the contributors to this document and I found it very helpful and useful. however, it’s nothing new — what we seem to be missing is the actual connection between what we know is right and doing it. And without very careful tracking, it’s difficult to know exactly how many milligrams of sodium you’re eating in a day.

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