New dietary guidelines from the FDA bring sugar, salt and fat into focus.
By Bev Bennett
America wants you to diet. Read the statistics: more than one third of children and more than two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are overweight.
For those in the majority and concerned about good health, the government is offering solid advice on how to get to a normal weight with the recent release of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines.
The guidelines tell people what to eat more of, what to eat less of and how to balance the calories one consumes with physical activity, says Brooke Schantz, registered dietitian, Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, Ill.
Although some of the recommendations may be controversial or challenging to follow, consumers can still make an effort to adapt to eating habits.
Start with the foods that can and should be eaten more often.
Fruits and vegetables, especially dark green, red and orange vegetables, along with beans and peas are high on the list. Plant foods are high in dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals while low in calories and fat.
Highlight plant foods in meal planning, says Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, PhD, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
“Choose vegetables and whole grains. Think about including beans, lentils and nuts in the foods you eat,” says Gazzaniga-Moloo, instructor at California State University in Sacramento.
If fish and seafood aren’t on the menu, add these foods twice a week. Fatty fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease. For pregnant women, eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids may improve a baby’s cognitive development.
Dairy foods also get a nod for their calcium, vitamin D and potassium contributions, as long as consumers choose fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
Of course, it's vital to make some trade-offs, so here are three “S” foods people should eat less of.
African-Americans or those with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease should limit their intake to 1500 milligrams of sodium a day, the equivalent of two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt (Blood pressure for these individuals may be even more sensitive to the blood-pressure raising effects of sodium and should reduce their intake by a greater amount.) For those not in a sodium risk group, stick with 2300 milligrams, about one teaspoon of salt.
Some experts, however, argue the sodium reduction advice, though sound, may be hard to follow.
“It’s almost impossible to do unless you do all your cooking at home,” says Beth Kitchen, registered dietitian, assistant professor in nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Sharply cutting back on sodium can affect ingredient choices as well.
Sodium has a role in food processing, from helping bread to rise to brining poultry, says Roger Clemens, spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists and adjunct professor at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
The food industry is working to reduce the sodium in processed foods, according to Clemens.
Sugar (added sugar)
Sweetened soft drinks, candy, breakfast cereals, snack foods and other added-sugar products may contribute 16 percent of the total calories in the average diet, according to statistics in the guidelines report.
Switch from sugary soft drinks to water as the guidelines suggest and save 100 calories or more with each serving.
Drink flavored water – without added calories – to make it more palatable.
“Lemon, lime or an orange slice in ice water gives it a zing,” Schantz says.
If it doesn’t pour at room temperature, fat is most likely high in saturated or trans fats. Eating too much solid fat may raise “bad” cholesterol and increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Opt for olive, canola and other vegetable oils instead of butter, bacon fat or lard. Make the change to fat-free milk and shop for leaner meat cuts.
Limit saturated fat to 10 percent or less of the calories eaten daily.Cholesterol should be kept to less than 300 milligrams a day, and avoid trans fats as much as possible.
Along with do’s and don’ts of what to eat, consumers have to gauge how much to eat--along with their physical activity--to maintain or lose weight.
Balance means not taking in more calories than the body requires.
“Use the guidelines as a tool to help determine the calories you need with the calories you burn,” Gazzaniga-Moloo says.
(Follow this path to find the appropriate calorie intake for your age, gender and activity level on this page of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 www.cnpp.usda.gov/publicationsDietaryGuidelines/2010/PolicyDoc/Chapter2)
To make adjustments, start with small steps, says the ADA spokesperson.
“Serve smaller portions to curb calories; build physical activity into the day.”
(Exercise plays a large role in the dietary guidelines, which offer tips for every age group at the above URL.)
Many people don’t want to change their food habits because they don’t want to give up the foods they enjoy, according to Schantz.
Don’t worry about one strategy, such as cutting calories. Instead aim for healthier overall choices following the guidelines, she says.