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New Dietary Guidelines Aimed at Stemming Obesity Trend

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee issued its Report earlier this week, providing updated dietary recommendations for Americans. Upon their review, the Secretaries from the Department of Agriculture (USDA ) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will issue its final version, Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, due for release later this year.

Since their inception in 1980, the Dietary Guidelines have been published every 5 years. During this 30 year period, the recommendations have not changed dramatically. What has changed is the population, two-thirds of whom are overweight or obese. The 2010 panel concluded that the over-consumption of total calories coupled with very low physical activity and too much sedentary time has led to the current obesity epidemic.

To address an increasingly unhealthy population, the 13 panel committee of independent experts issued the following recommendations:

  • Reduce the incidence and prevalence of overweight and obesity in US population by reducing caloric intake and increasing physical activity.

  • Shift food intake patterns to a more plant based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

  • Increase the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products. Consume only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry and eggs.

  • Significantly reduce intake of foods containing solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS).

  • Reduce sodium intake from 2,300 mg to 1,500 mg per day. Lower intake of refined grains, especially refined grains that are coupled with added sugar, solid fat and sodium.

  • Limit saturated fatty acid intake from less than 10 percent to less than 7 percent of total calories and substitute with mono or polyunsaturated food sources. Limit dietary cholesterol from less than 300 mg to less than 200 mg per day. Avoid trans-fatty acids.

  • Moderate alcohol intake to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men (one drink equivalent to 12 fl. oz of regular beer, 5 fl. oz of wine or 1.5 fl. oz of distilled spirits).

  • Increase dietary intake of vitamin D, calcium, potassium and fiber in both adults and children.

This year’s recommendations differ from previous ones in that panel experts acknowledge that Americans need assistance in ensuring a health-promoting diet and achieving and maintaining energy balance.

The report said, “The daunting public health challenge is to accomplish population-wide adoption of healthful dietary patterns within the context of powerful influences that currently promote unhealthy consumer choices, behaviors and lifestyles.”

The Bottom Line

Clearly, a coordinated effort needs to be made by public health officials, communities and schools to make healthy foods and physical activity more accessible. In children, among whom obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years, this is especially important as eating patterns established in childhood often are carried into adulthood.

It will be interesting to see how the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans look. But, given the highly political process (think dairy and meat lobby), we’re not holding our breath.

In the meantime, eating away from home (and we’re doing this much more) is associated with increased risk of weight gain, overweight and obesity. So, if you want to lose or maintain weight, and eat more health promoting foods, then preparing and eating meals at home is a must. It requires effort, energy, time and money (healthy foods cost more), but what’s more important than the health of you and your family?

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