The New Dietary Guidelines & YOU

Today the government released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), a set of health recommendations on food and nutrition. (Yes, it is 2011, but better late than never!) As an RD, I didn’t see much that was surprising in the new recommendations.  However I was pleased to see the USDA taking a stronger stance on serious issues including sodium and added sugars.   The 2010 DGA also reiterate the importance of consuming fruits and vegetables and whole grains.  Among the report’s 23 recommendations:

  • Consume fewer calories from solid fats and added sugars.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green, red and orange vegetables, 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 the amounts of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese and fortified soy beverages.
  • Use oils to replace solid fats where possible.

Some people mock the DGA because, while they are based on solid scientific research, it seems that few Americans are taking the guidelines seriously and incorporating them into their daily lives.  We wouldn’t be approaching the 70% overweight/obese marker as a nation if more people heeded the guidelines.

No need to pour over every word of the report.  In fact, I thought that this round of guidelines had a remarkably clear and simple message for the public.  If you don’t have time to read the DGA, remember these practical tips summarized in the press release:

Balancing Calories

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
  • Switch to fat free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce

  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Sounds simple enough.  Personally I love the “eat less” line.  But like most behavior changes, breaking poor dietary habits is a lot easier said than done.  My advice? If you are struggling to lose weight and or eat healthier, start with SMALL changes.  Success builds on success and if you can start with one or two of the recommendations above (and stick with them) you will likely be able to incorporate more positive changes successfully over time.

Here are some good starting points for foods/nutrients to REDUCE:

Sodium. African Americans, people of any race over the age of 51 or anyone who has high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease should reduce their sodium intake to 1500 milligrams (mg) per day. Everyone else should strive to stay below 2300 mg per day.

Saturated fat. Less then 10% of your daily fat calories should come from saturated fats (fatty meats, coconut and tropical oils). Replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

Cholesterol. Animal based foods contain cholesterol and you should consume less than 300 mg per day by choosing more plant-based foods.

Trans fats. You should avoid trans fats whenever possible by limiting your consumption of partially hydrogenated oils (look at those food labels!)

Refined grains. Foods made from 100% whole grains contain nutrients and fiber lost in the refining process. So choose more oats, brown rice, 100% whole wheat, bulgar, quinoa, and barley.  Skip the white bread and refined flour pastries and cookies.  (Ok, skip them more often.  It’s not realistic for most of us to eliminate the occasional sweet treat.)

Added Sugars. Extra sugar only adds calories but no other nutrients.  Keep these to a minimum.

And here are some good starting points for foods/nutrients to INCREASE:

The USDA recommends consuming more potassium, calcium, fiber, vitamin D.

Fruits and vegetables. Fresh, frozen, raw or cooked – eat the amount of fruits and vegetables recommended for your age. And choose vegetables that are dark green or brightly colored – they contain phytochemicals that may have extra health benefits, plus they’re usually high in nutrients and fiber.

Fat free or low-fat milk and dairy. Reduce your use of high fat cream and whole milk, but feel free to enjoy non or low-fat milk as a beverage. You can also choose non and low-fat yogurt or cheese. If you don’t want or can’t tolerate dairy, choose calcium and vitamin D fortified soy milk, rice milk or orange juice (and some of the dark green vegetables are rich in calcium, too).

Choose a variety of proteins. Since you may need to reduce your intake of fatty meats, you can experiment with other proteins – lean meats, poultry, quinoa, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds and soy products.

Eat more seafood. Fish and seafood tend to be relatively low in fat and calories, and the fat they do contain are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The new guidelines recommend 8 ounces per week of fish.

Use oils instead of solid fats. Canola oil, avocados and olive oils are rich in healthy fats and can be used in place of butter or lard.

Fruit and Veggie Oath: I, Katherine Brooking, hereby commit to filling half my plate with fruits and vegetables!

Even as an RD, my diet could use some improvement.  My favorite recommendation?  “Make half your plate fruits and vegetables”.  As long as your fruits and veggies aren’t doused in sauces and creams,  you will likely be cutting calories and adding a lot of nutritional value to your diet by increasing produce.  Although I easily meet the recommended fruit servings every day, my veggie intake is not up to the 2- 2 ½ cups that I should be eating.  So starting today, I am making a commitment to myself, and to you, dear readers, to fill half my plate with fruits and veggies.  Which recommendations will you be incorporating into YOUR life?  Tell us in the comment section below!

— Katherine


  1. Erin Callaway says

    Hi Katherine —

    I’m with you on just about everything you suggest about eating. I’d like to hear more from you about soy products, though. As a vegetarian I used to eat a lot of that stuff (like the soy dogs and veggie lunch “meats”, for example). I’m now turning away from them in favor of real, whole, unprocessed foods instead, including locally raised organic meats. In short, it seems that a few sensibly portioned and prepared servings of whole, unadulterated real meat a week (which to me includes beef, pork, chicken and fish) is by far healthier than consuming soy products, which, with the exception of temphe and edamame and some tofus, are overly processed and contain a lot of artificial, nutritionally void fillers.

    What do you think?


    P.S. Love your site!

  2. says

    Hi Erin —
    Great to hear from you and I hope all’s well!
    Yes, I agree that generally speaking including a few sensibly portioned servings of ‘unadulterated’ meat such as beef, pork, chicken and fish can most definitely be part of a healthy lifestyle. Particularly in the case of fish, there is much research to support health benefits, and in fact the new USDA reco call for 8 oz. of fish per week (up from 6 oz.) There are soy products on the market that are loaded with additives and fillers that are unnecessary. However, as you pointed out, there are other soy and soy-based products that are mostly unprocessed. My view is that a mix of both plant based and animal based proteins is fine for most healthy individuals — keeping in mind limits on saturated fat and avoiding heavily processed foods (either meat based or soy based). The reality is that most americans overconsume protein. So a few sensibly portioned servings of protein is fine (plant or animal protein) however the emphasis for most people should be on consuming more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lowering saturated fat found in butter, full fat dairy, and high fat meats. I hope this helps. I welcome your comments/questions and are so glad you like the site. Katherine

Leave a Reply