Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The New Dietary Guidlines for Americans, 2010: Why We Need Them and How We Can Achieve Them

They're here!!
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat more fresh food and less processed foods.
  • Eat less fat, salt, sugar and soda. 
  • Watch your calorie intake.
  • Eat less, in general. 
I don't think any of these ideas are new to us, necessarily, but many of them are new to our dietary guidelines. This document, released earlier this week, seems to finally be moving in the right direction!

The Typical American Diet 
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 finally put into print all of these healthy eating ideas because, whether we can say we knew it or not, as a country we simply have not been implementing these ideals in our daily eating. Let's begin by looking at how the typical American diet stacks up against the recommendations in our new guidelines:
Click the image for a larger version, if necessary.
While the data for this chart is dated, at the latest 2006, the evidence is striking. Could we have improved in the last four years? Sure. However, I am not sure there have been dramatic enough changes in our culture and/society to have me believing that possibility. And on that note...

What Has It Done To Us

The single piece of evidence staring each of us in the face day after day when thinking about how we are doing in terms of our consumption as a country is the increasing rate of obesity. Not only do we see it in our every day lives, in our families, friends and coworkers, but now our television programming is becoming saturated with reality weight loss programs with no shortage of participants. The guidelines have recognized this problem and spell it out in black and white.
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While each of the comparisons in the table are staggering to me, it is the last that seems unfathomable - in 1990 ZERO states had adult obesity rates more than 25%, but by 2008 THIRTY-TWO states did. Enough is enough.

The Bad Guys

There are a number of factors in our diet that have led to this sad state of affairs, but calories is not necessarily one of them. Remember this: calories = energy, we do need them, however, we do not need an excess of them and we need to get them from healthier sources. To exemplify this, let's take a look at some of the places where we have been picking up some bad calories:
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With this segmented bar chart it is easy to see how to cut out those evil calories! Be careful, too when you pick up some of these low calorie snacks sold on the market - think of this chart and ask yourself Where are these calories coming from? Your food should supply you with energy (calories) and nourishment (nutrients).

Since the chart is up there, it is plain to see that one of our greatest nemeses in the food game is fat. Well, the same is true of fat as is of calories - not all are bad. There are, in fact some essential fats we need to have in our diets. Here is another great chart from the guidelines that breaks down the fat in a selection of solid fats and oils:
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Finally, one of our greatest problems in this country is sodium. If you are not sure it is that much of a problem, then this chart is definitely for you:
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To explain, the dotted line running horizontally across the graph represents the "Adequate Intake of Sodium for Individuals 9 years and older", the solid horizontal line represents the "Tolerable Upper Intake of Sodium for adults." This is heartbreaking and frightening to me, especially when I see where the 2-5 year old group is. Sodium is a problem and we need to address it. (Says the woman who had a nice bunch of salty gluten-free pretzels with her lunch today...)

The Good Guys

Well, it is not all doom and gloom! The Guidelines are here to point us in the right direction, to carve a new path to a healthier future! Part of that battle is pointing out our allies in the fight and how to ensure we get more of them.

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Each of these groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and protein contains one or subgroups that we should focus our energy on finding, preparing and eating. When it comes to grains, we should look for whole grains, and here are three ways the guidelines suggest that you can incorporate them into your diet.
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The goal is three ounces of whole grains per day, while it would be great to always have 100% whole grains, the guidelines recognize that this is not the only way.

It Takes a Village

Finally, as noted earlier, to truly tackle the issues of our society's unhealthy eating habits and make sweeping changes across the country, it is going to take more than a mere document filled with suggestions - it is going to take a culture shift. The Guidelines have illustrated how big this idea really is to tackle, socially. Not only do each of us have to tackle this as individuals, but we must seek changes in our environments, we must see changes in all of our sectors of influence and only then can we truly see changes in our social and cultural norms and values.
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So start now in your inner circle with all your individual factors, download the Dietary Guidelines for yourself so you can be educated about what is need to enact real changes. Then work on your environments: your home, your workplace, your child's school - be an active participant in the food conversations to ensure that all individuals in these environments recognize this as a priority. As for the sectors of influence, let your doctor(s) know that this is priority for you and your family and you would like them to be on the same page as you, let your government officials know (TAKE ACTION when the need arises), post healthy food tips and tricks on your facebook page, in your tweets and on your blog, if you embrace these changes, this healthier lifestyle your social and cultural norms and values will change... then you'll just have to wait for your ripples of influence to impact those around you!

People are talking...

Once the guidelines were released, the news hit the web and responses could be found everywhere, here are just a few I have read so far:
What are your thoughts about the guidelines?

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