In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need the government to give us dietary guidelines.
We’d just ignore all the marketing urging us to grab food that’s formulated to deliver the most sugar, salt and short-term satisfaction for the least amount of money. We’d learn to ignore our cravings to eat the things we know we shouldn’t eat, and we’d only listen to the part of our brains that tell us to eat balanced meals and skip the extra calories.
Not a perfect world, though, is it? We’re bombarded every day with contradictory messages, get-thin-quick plans and nutrition confusion.
Every five years, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services come out with a list of rules, politely called guidelines, on how we ought to eat. We all know, of course, that an awful lot of wrangling goes into that list. Food lobbies, special-interest groups and big business play a huge role in what those guidelines say.
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The new list, released earlier this month, did take a couple of steps forward. Instead of telling you to limit sugar, it gives you a target – less than 10 percent of your daily calories. That would certainly limit high-sugar drinks, a good suggestion in an era when the original 6.5-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola has been replaced by a 12-ounce bottle that’s dwarfed by a 32-ounce “small” cup at a movie theater. You can get the full list at health.gov/dietaryguidelines.
The new set of rules lifted limits on eggs and kept the focus on lowering sodium. It suggests more plant-based food and encourages teen boys and adult men to eat less protein. It doesn’t mention eating less red meat, but it does support eating more fish.
It also focuses on dietary patterns, which is a good idea. It’s not one meal or one splurge that’s the problem, it’s the long-term pattern of how you eat over your lifetime that adds up. But it ends up with language so fuzzy, it will make you yearn for the days when we all made fun of the Food Guide Pyramid. At least the pyramid got to the point.
In a perfect world, we’d have a simple list of dietary guidelines:
▪ If it’s sweet, just take a couple of bites.
▪ If it’s salty, don’t eat more than a handful.
▪ If you cook it yourself, you can eat it more often.
▪ If it makes you feel guilty, you probably shouldn’t do it.
▪ Spend as much time getting exercise as you do sitting at a table.
▪ Eat a lot of different things – different colors, different flavors.
▪ Eat more plants than meat. Try to eat things grown by people you know or things you’ve grown yourself.
Remember that food is joyful and life-sustaining. Food is meant to be shared and enjoyed. There. Does that about cover it?
Key recommendations from the USDA 2015 Dietary Guidelines
Consume a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.
A healthy eating pattern includes:
▪ A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups – dark green, (lettuces, kale, collards, spinach, etc) red and orange (carrots, squash, tomatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, red peppers), legumes (beans and peas, lentils), starchy (corn, potatoes, lima beans, plantains, green peas, etc), and other
▪ Fruits, especially whole fruits
▪ Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
▪ Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
▪ A variety of protein foods including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
A healthy eating pattern limits:
▪ Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars and sodium
Key recommendations that are quantitative are provided for several components of the diet that should be limited. These components are of particular public health concern in the United States, and the specified limits can help individuals achieve healthy eating patterns within calorie limits:
▪ Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars
▪ Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats
▪ Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium
▪ If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation – up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men – and only by adults of legal drinking age.
Cooking for Optimal Health
Columbia’s Cooking, part of USC’s Cancer Prevention and Control Program, is offering a program designed to help participants learn how to shop for, prepare and plan healthy, delicious, plant-based meals. Classes start Jan. 27 and run 5:30-7 p.m. every Wednesday through April 13.
Plant-based diets have been shown to help prevent and reduce the use of certain medications, improve sleep, achieve weight loss without portion control or calorie counting, increase energy and improve digestion and lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure. This program includes 12 participatory cooking and nutrition lessons, guest chef cooking classes, a 30-minute individual session with nutritionist Trisha Mandes, meals, recipes, curriculum book, cooking and lecture videos that you can watch and relearn at your leisure and more. Also included are nine potlucks, held once a month for nine months after the completion of the program to provide additional social support, and membership to Columbia’s Cooking private Facebook group where you can ask questions, share recipes and enjoy an online place of support and accountability.