Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The New Picture of Health

What should Americans be eating today?
Congratulations to those who say they’re trying to eat a better diet to lose some weight and improve their overall health.

As you’ve no doubt heard, the American diet could use some improvements to battle obesity and help prevent diet-related illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. But what does a healthy diet look like these days?

Does it mean trading steaks on the grill for tofu and bean sprouts? Should salad bowls be bigger and ice cream bowls be banned? Are there clearly defined dietary devils and angels?

Addressing these questions is the job of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. It was established to update the 2005 Dietary Guidelines by taking a look at the latest and greatest nutrition research and then advising leaders at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on what Americans should be eating today.

In its report, released this month, the committee concludes that, “On average, Americans of all ages consume too few vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains, low-fat milk and milk products, and seafood, and they eat too much added sugars, solid fats, refined grains, and sodium.”

Translation: Spend more time exploring the produce section and less time eyeing fried chicken in the deli.

Get off the 'soFAs'

Remember all the talk about “couch potatoes,” referring to sedentary habits that contribute to weight gain? Well now couches are joined by sofas! The 2010 Dietary Guidelines report warns that “SoFAS” (solid fats and added sugars) contribute about 35 percent of calories to the American diet for kids, teens and adults.

"Solid fats" refers to the fat in butter, cheese, stick margarine, vegetable shortening (oils that are hydrogenated to be solid at room temperature) and the fats in meats.

"Added sugars" doesn’t need much explanation, but don’t forget that includes soft drinks. The report states, “Reducing the intake of SoFAS can lead to a badly needed reduction in energy intake and inclusion of more healthful foods into the total diet.” So couches and sofas are out, but tables are in. The committee included advice to encourage the enjoyment of healthy food and pointed to the benefits of Mediterranean-style dietary patterns.

Translation: Set a table outside with platters of grilled fish and lemons, vegetables drizzled with olive oil and sliced melon for dessert; preferably with a view of the sea.

The 2010 ‘Uncle Sam Diet,' if you will.The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report: “Shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds.”

Translation: Check out the vegetarian entrees on menus when dining out, even if you’re not a vegetarian, to increase intake of valuable nutrients including fiber and antioxidants.
The report: “Increase the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products and consume only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry and eggs.”

Translation: You don’t have to cut milkshakes or steaks from a healthy diet. Lean toward low-fat dairy and lean meats. For instance, from flank steak to top sirloin, there are 29 different cuts of beef that qualify as lean with less than 10 grams of fat per serving.
The report: “Significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats because these dietary components contribute excess calories and few, if any, nutrients.”

Translation: Don’t waste calories on sugar-sweetened beverages and deep-fried foods. If you do, spend those calories wisely with smaller portions enjoyed less frequently.

The report: “Reduce sodium intake.”

Translation: Shaking a salt habit doesn’t have to mean suffering with bland foods. Add a world of healthy flavors with fresh herbs, dried herbs, spices, citrus, vinegars, salsas, garlic and mushrooms. Cooking techniques such as grilling, roasting and pan searing caramelize the natural sugars and proteins in foods to add flavor.
The report: “Lower intake of refined grains, especially refined grains that are coupled with added sugar, solid fat, and sodium.”

Translation: Looks like we'd better go easy on the doughnuts and tortilla chips.
To read the full report from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, go to www.dietaryguidelines.gov.

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