Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dietary Guidelines for Americans

After writing the last two posts about reading a nutrition facts label and top 10 food label tricks to avoid, I can't help but further expand on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that I mentioned in both of those posts.

What are the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA)?  The DGA "provide advice for making food choices that promote good health, advocate a healthy weight, and help prevent disease. The DGA are for healthy Americans age 2 and older."  "The advice is based on a thorough, transparent, and unbiased review of the scientific evidence. The DGA are congressionally mandated under the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act (Public Law 101-445, Section 301 [7 U.S.C. 5341], Title III). Every 5 years, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services release a new set of guidelines."  The most recent guidelines were released in 2010.

The current guidelines emphasize 3 major goals for Americans:
  1. "Balance calories with physical activity to manage weight"
  2. "Consume more of certain foods and nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and seafood"
  3. "Consume fewer foods with sodium (salt), saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, and refined grains"
It also "include 23 key recommendations for the general population and 6 additional key recommendations for specific population groups, such as pregnant women. The recommendations are intended to help people choose an overall healthy diet."

The entire report can be found here.  The report goes into excellent detail about all aspects of their recommendations.  I found it fascinating to read and it is something that can teach you a lot about nutrition.  I'll post the key recommendations below:

Balancing calories to Manage weight
• Prevent and/or reduce overweight and obesity through improved eating and physical activity behaviors.
• Control total calorie intake to manage body weight. For people who are overweight or obese, this will mean consuming fewer calories from foods and beverages.
• Increase physical activity and reduce time spent in sedentary behaviors.
• Maintain appropriate calorie balance during each stage of life—childhood, adolescence, adulthood, pregnancy and breastfeeding, and older age.

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.

Recommendations for specific population groups
Women capable of becoming pregnant
• Choose foods that supply heme iron, which is more readily absorbed by the body, additional iron sources, and enhancers of iron absorption such as vitamin C-rich foods.
• Consume 400 micrograms (mcg) per day of synthetic folic acid (from fortified foods and/or supplements) in addition to food forms of folate from a varied diet.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
• Consume 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week from a variety of seafood types.
• Due to their high methyl mercury content, limit white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces per week and do not eat the following four types of fish: tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel.
• If pregnant, take an iron supplement, as recommended by an obstetrician or other health care provider.

Individuals ages 50 years and older
• Consume foods fortified with vitamin B, such 12 as fortified cereals, or dietary supplements.

Building healthy eating Patterns
• Select an eating pattern that meets nutrient needs over time at an appropriate calorie level.
• Account for all foods and beverages consumed and assess how they fit within a total healthy eating pattern.
• Follow food safety recommendations when preparing and eating foods to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

All of this seems like common sense, right?  Well, apparently, a lot of manufacturers "trick" consumers through labeling that may be misleading or confusing.  Many consumers may "think" they are eating healthier when in fact, they may not be when a label is thoroughly analyzed.  Also, it is easier and cheaper to eat processed foods that may not be the "healthiest" alternative.  I think education is power and by educating ourselves about what is in the food we eat, we can make healthier choices.  I am also a firm believer in preparing your own food so you know what goes in it.  By preparing our own food and thoroughly reading labels before we purchase an item, it will go a long way in improving the diet and health of all Americans.

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