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Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
By Gary F. Zeolla
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its updated "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" in January 2005. The full text for the guidelines can be downloaded at: www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines. Also available on this site is a brochure based on the guidelines titled Find Your Way to a Healthier You and a list of Key Recommendations from the guidelines. I would encourage all readers of this newsletter to download all these items and read through them.
Overall, I would say the updated guidelines are very good, and there is no doubt that if Americans as a whole were to follow the guidelines, the health of our nation would improve greatly. In this article, I will provide comments on some key points of the new guidelines.
A Healthy Eating Plan
The brochure begins with the following outline:
A Healthy Eating Plan is one that:
- Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
- Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.
- Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium (salt), and added sugars.
I have emphasized previously in this newsletter, on the Fitness for One and All Web site, and in my God-given Foods Eating Plan book the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables, and it is heartening to see the emphasis the USDA is now giving to fruits and vegetables as well.
I have also discussed how very much more nutritious whole grains are than refined and so-called "enriched" grains. So it is really nice to see the USDA is now specifically recommending whole grains rather than its previous recommendation of "whole grain or enriched breads and cereals."
However, the new guidelines are only recommending that half of one's daily grains come from whole grains. The other half can come from enriched grains. I would say it is best for all of one's consumption of grains to be from whole grains.
As for dairy products, in my Creationist Diet book, I discuss that many believe dairy products are not really that healthy. And I at one time took that position, but I have now moderated my views. Dairy products can be a healthy part of one's diet, if they are, as the USDA recommends, fat-free or low-fat versions of dairy foods. But one does have to be cautious about the all too common allergy to dairy and lactose intolerance.
It's also nice to see that the USDA is not recommending a vegetarian diet. Lean meats, poultry, and fish can all be part of a healthy diet. The full text of the guidelines even discusses the health benefits that eating at least two servings of fish a week can provide, and the brochure recommends varying one's protein intake by consuming more fish, along with more beans, peas, nuts, and seeds. These are all good recommendations.
Its also interesting that the new guidelines recommend a relatively high protein diet. "High protein" that is as compared to the recommended dietary allowance (RDA). Specifically, for someone consuming 2,000 calories a day, the RDA for protein is only 56 grams, while if someone consumes 2,000 calories according to the guidelines, you would be getting 91 grams of protein. This is over 18% of calories.
Now as a powerlifter, I consume more protein than this. But the point is, the guidelines would have a person eating more protein and consequently less carbohydrates than the RDAs would (both recommend relatively low amounts of fat). And I would say, that an over-consumption of carbohydrates is one of the reasons so many Americans are overweight.
In fact, the guidelines have changed its recommendation for the number of servings of grains to be eaten per day. It used to be 5-11 servings, now it is 6 servings for someone consuming 2,000 calories a day. This might still be a little too high for the average person, but it is a step in the right direction.
And finally, telling people to limit their intake of saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium (salt), and added sugars are all good recommendations. There is no doubt that Americans as a whole eat way too much of all of these. And it's especially nice to see the USDA is now warning about the dangers of trans fat (usually found in processed foods in the form of hydrogenated oils and in fried foods).
Key Recommendations for the General Population
Included in the full text of the guidelines and separately on the above Web site is a list of Key Recommendations for the General Population. Below I will comment on few of these.
* Consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages within and among the basic food groups while choosing foods that limit the intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt, and alcohol.
An emphasis seen in the guidelines is on "variety." Too many people eat only a very limited number of different foods. But there are so many healthy (and tasty) foods available, each with different nutritional contributions to make to one's diet. So experiment. As the saying goes, "variety is the spice of life."
* To maintain body weight in a healthy range, balance calories from foods and beverages with calories expended.
Easier said then done; but an important point.
* Engage in regular physical activity and reduce sedentary activities to promote health, psychological well-being, and a healthy body weight.
Even though these are "dietary guidelines," they include specific recommendations on exercise. This is because you cannot separate the two. Diet and exercise go hand in hand in a healthy lifestyle. That is why I also included two chapters on exercise in my Creationist Diet book.
* To reduce the risk of chronic disease in adulthood: Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, above usual activity, at work or home on most days of the week.
* For most people, greater health benefits can be obtained by engaging in physical activity of more vigorous intensity or longer duration.
* To help manage body weight and prevent gradual, unhealthy body weight gain in adulthood: Engage in approximately 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity on most days of the week while not exceeding caloric intake requirements.
* To sustain weight loss in adulthood: Participate in at least 60 to 90 minutes of daily moderate-intensity physical activity while not exceeding caloric intake requirements. Some people may need to consult with a healthcare provider before participating in this level of activity.
I'm grouping these four together as they all have the same theme-more exercise. The most interesting point is the USDA now realizes that previous recommendations of only 30 minutes of exercise a day were not really adequate. 60 minutes a day is what is really needed for optimal health benefits, and even more for weight loss purposes.
* Achieve physical fitness by including cardiovascular conditioning, stretching exercises for flexibility, and resistance exercises or calisthenics for muscle strength and endurance.
Cardiovascular exercise, stretching, and strength training. Too many people only include one or two of these types of exercises, but all three aspects need to be included in an exercise program for full conditioning and injury and disease prevention.
* Consume a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables while staying within energy needs. Two cups of fruit and 21/2 cups of vegetables per day are recommended for a reference 2,000-calorie intake, with higher or lower amounts depending on the calorie level.
The new guidelines have moved away from recommending the number of servings of fruits and vegetables to be consumed each day to now recommending the total number of cups to be consumed. I'm not sure if this is less or more confusing. But the full text does break down the "cups" recommendation into number of servings as well.
Specifically, the guidelines recommend four servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables per day. So that's a total of nine servings of fruits and vegetables combined. This is the higher end of the previous recommendation of 5-9 servings per day. So the USDA realized that only five servings really are not adequate.
But one point to note is that one really doesn't have to be concerned about "staying within energy needs" when consuming non-starchy vegetables. You can pretty much eat as much vegetables as you want without any concern about calories. I doubt very much any has ever gotten overweight by eating too much lettuce, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts! So eat up! The more the better of such foods.
* Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. In particular, select from all five vegetable subgroups (dark green, orange, legumes, starchy vegetables, and other vegetables) several times a week.
Again, the emphasis on eating more vegetables and a variety of vegetables is very good. Mix up the colors of the vegetables you consume and you'll be sure to be consuming a wide variety of nutrients.
* Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids and less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol, and keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.
I like the recommendation to keep trans fats "as low as possible." Avoid processed and fried foods and you can avoid them altogether. And this would be the best approach. There is no "safe" amount of trans fat that one can consume. Any amount is too much.
* Keep total fat intake between 20 to 35 percent of calories, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
It is best to focus more on monounsaturated fatty acids than on polyunsaturated ones. Monounsaturated fatty acids have greater heart-protective effects, and they elevate testosterone levels in men, while polyunsaturated fatty acids do not. For more in this regard, see Hormones and Diet: Part Two: Testosterone.
* When selecting and preparing meat, poultry, dry beans, and milk or milk products, make choices that are lean, low-fat, or fat-free.
I'm not sure why "dry beans" are on this list. They are naturally low in fat. But maybe the USDA is thinking of prepared bean dishes that can have much fat added. But that said, the other foods can all be sources of unhealthy saturated fats. But low fat versions of all of these are available. And without the fat content, meats, poultry, and dairy products are a part of a healthy diet. Again, a vegetarian diet is not necessary.
* Choose fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains often.
Yes, eat lots of fruits and vegetables. But again, don't go overboard on the grains. It is relatively easy to over consume even whole grains.
In regards to fruit, the brochure recommends, "Eat a variety of fruits-whether fresh, frozen, canned, or dried-rather than fruit juice for your fruit choices."
Again, the emphasis on variety. But note that the USDA is backing off on recommending fruit juice. On this I would agree. The processing of fruits into juice causes a loss of most of the nutrients and beneficial fiber, along with a concentration of the sugar.
Fruits are great, but they cannot be eaten indiscriminately due to the sugar content. When consuming whole fruits this is usually not a problem. The high fiber and water content usually prevents one from eating too much fruit at once. But with fruit juices, its simply too easy to over-consume. The same goes for dried fruits. A serving is only ¼ of a cup, but it's very easy to eat far more than this. But in limited amounts, dried fruits can be a healthy and convenient snack. One just has to be careful about over-consumption.
I also wouldn't recommend canned fruits. The canning process causes a significant loss of nutrients and fiber, and again, without the fiber, it's easy to overeat.
But I should add that homemade juices would not have as much of a nutrient loss as commercial fruit juices. So such juices could have a place in a healthy diet.
* Choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars or caloric sweeteners, such as amounts suggested by the USDA Food Guide and the DASH Eating Plan.
The brochure and the full text of the guidelines lists the various names that added sugars can be “hiding” under in an ingredients list. These all need to be avoided: sugar, invert sugar, sucrose, dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, corn sweetener, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, syrup, molasses, brown sugar, raw sugar, fruit juice concentrates, maple syrup, honey.
The last five might seem like “natural” alternatives to sugar. But they are all empty calories just like the rest. Honey does have some antioxidant value to it, as some recent, well-reported studies have shown. But fruits and vegetables contain far greater amounts of antioxidants with far less caloric content. Molasses is the only item in the list with any significant amount of nutrients in it.
* Consume less than 2,300 mg (approximately 1 teaspoon of salt) of sodium per day.
The bulk of the sodium Americans consume comes from processed foods. Processed foods are also the major source of trans fats and added sugars in the American diet. Whole natural foods are the way to go, as I emphasize in my Creationist Diet book.
* Choose and prepare foods with little salt. At the same time, consume potassium-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
Again, eat more fruits and vegetables. This point simply cannot be emphasized enough.
The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans look very good. The problem is with implication. The full text of the guidelines lists the changes that would have to occur in the American diet for Americans as a whole to be following the guidelines. And in some cases, it would take some significant changes.
But if you took the time to read this article, then you must be concerned about your health. So eat more fruits and vegetables, along with following the other recommendations in the guidelines. Your body will thank you for it.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans: A Review. Copyright © 2005 by Gary F. Zeolla.
Disclaimers: The material presented in this article is intended for educational purposes only. The author is not offering medical or legal advice. Accuracy of information is attempted but not guaranteed. Before undertaking any diet, exercise, or health improvement program, one should consult your doctor. The author is in no way responsible or liable for any bodily harm, physical, mental, or emotional, that results from following any of the advice in this article.
The above article was posted on this site March 2, 2005.
It originally appeared in the free email newsletter FitTips for One and All.
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