The obesity epidemic in the United States has governmental agencies worried. In the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans released today, the federal government is urging Americans to reduce their calorie consumption and increase exercising and engaging in physical activity.
More than one-third of this nation’s children and two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. In the United States, there are 23.4 million children between age 2 and 19 who are overweight and obese (with a BMI – body mass index – above the 85th percentile for their age range). Among adults (over age 20), 145 million are overweight and obese.
“The 2010 Dietary Guidelines are being released at a time when the majority of adults and one in three children is overweight or obese and this is a crisis that we can no longer ignore,” said US. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“The bottom line is that most Americans need to trim our waistlines to reduce the risk of developing diet-related chronic disease. Improving our eating habits is not only good for every individual and family, but also for our family,” Vilsack wrote.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is updated every five years, as a combined effort of the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In this 2010 update, the USDA and HSS is urging Americans to eat healthier foods (such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and seafood) and reduce their sodium and sugar intake, as well as avoiding refined grains and saturated and trans fats. They want Americans to balance their diet with more physical activity – i.e. exercise.
Highlights of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that Americans prevent becoming overweight and obese with healthier eating habits, less time doing sedentary behaviors (i.e. sitting in front of a computer, playing video games, etc.) and more physical activity behavior. For people who are overweight, it is recommended that they consumer fewer calories from foods and beverages.
The key dietary recommendations from the report include:
The report recommends that adults reduce their daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) – roughly only a teaspoon of salt a day. Children, older Americans (age 51 and up), all African-Americans, and people with hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should limit their salt further to less than 1,500 milligrams – that’s between 1/2 teaspoon and 3/4 teaspoon of salt.
According to the Dietary Guidelines report, a strong body of evidence has shown that as sodium intake decreased in both adults and children, blood pressure decreased as well. Lowering your family’s salt intake will reduce each person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.
Unfortunately, most Americans consume around 3,400 mg of sodium per day. Salt is a major food additive in everything we eat. It is used in curing meat, baking, retaining moisture, and to enhance flavor when we cook. It’s also commonly used at the table.
To protect your family’s health, you will want to read product labels very carefully. According to the American Heart Association, here are a few common product label terms and what they equate to in terms of sodium content:
- Sodium-free – the product has less than 5 mg of salt per serving
- Very low sodium – there is 35 mg of sodium or less per serving
- Low sodium – it contains 140 milligrams or less per serving
- Reduced sodium – the regular sodium level is only reduced by 25 percent
- Unsalted, no salt added – This means that there’s no artificial salt added, but the product still contains the sodium that is part of the food.
Limit Saturated Fatty Acids
It is recommended that less than 10 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fatty acids. (Saturated fatty acids are usually sold at room temperature, and they include butter, whole milk, lard and meat products.)
Substitute this with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. (Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids include vegetable oils, olive oil, canola oil, canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, and sesame oil.)
Research has associated with consuming fewer than 10 percent of your calories from saturated fatty acids with lowering your blood cholesterol levels and reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Reduce Dietary Cholesterol
Everyone should aim for less than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol every day. (Foods that come from animals – such as egg yolks, meat, shellfish, poultry, and whole milk – contain cholesterol. Foods derived from fruits and vegetables do not contain cholesterol.)
High levels of dietary cholesterol have been associated with raising your blood LDL cholesterol levels. LDL is the “bad” cholesterol, and it increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Avoid Trans Fatty Acids, Lower Intake of Solid Fats and Added Sugars
You should try to avoid or limit your consumption of trans fatty acids if possible, and limit your consumption of food that contains synthetic trans fats – including partially hydrogenated oils, shortening, and other solid fats. Trans fatty acids have been linked to increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease, since it raises your LDL cholesterol.
In addition, you should lower your intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars. Solid fats include butter, lard (pork fat), chicken fat, beef fat (tallow), stick margarine, and shortening. Some major foods in the American diet that have solid fats are pizza, grain-based desserts like cookies and cakes, cheese, bacon, sausage, ribs, and fried white potatoes.
“Added sugars” refers to sugars added to food during processing and preparation process. Many foods that have added sugars are “empty calories” – high in calories but few or no essential nutrients or dietary fiber. Added sugars include high fructose corn syrup, white and brown sugar, corn syrup, raw sugar, maple syrup, fructose sweetener, honey, molasses, and malt syrup.
Choose Whole Grains
The new dietary guidelines also suggests that you limit your consumption of foods that have refined grains. During the refining process, the whole grains lose vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. Opt for whole grain products instead.
More Fruits and Vegetables and Other Recommendations
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that you should increase your vegetable and fruit consumption, especially dark-green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas.
Everyone should also increase their intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products – milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified soy drinks.
In addition, Americans should eat a variety of protein-rich foods, including seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds. It is also recommended that you increase the amount and variety of seafood that you eat by consuming seafood instead of some of the red meat and poultry. You should also choose foods that have more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D.
Specific Recommendations for Pregnant Women
The 2010 Dietary Recommendations for Americans recommends that women who may become pregnant choose foods that supply heme iron – the type of iron found in animal foods, such as meats, fish, and poultry. Heme iron is more easily absorbed by your body than the vegetarian-derived nonheme iron.
The new guidelines also recommend that women who may get pregnant consume 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. (Folic acid is essential in the first trimester of pregnancy, since it may help prevent neutral tube defects.)
For women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, they should eat between 8 to 12 ounces of seafood each week. However, due to their high mercury content, expectant mothers should limit their white albacore tuna to 6 ounces a week, and they should avoid eating tilefish, shark, swordfish, or king mackerel.
Pregnant women should also take an iron supplement, as recommended by their healthcare provider. (Anemia is a very common problem during pregnancy.)
The new dietary guidelines urges everyone to exercise. Children between the age of 6 and 17 should perform at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. All adults should avoid inactivity. Some exercise is better than none at all.
Read the new Dietary Guidelines Yourself
If you’re interested, you can go to the USDA website to read the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans yourself.
Currently, the Food Guide Pyramid will remain unchanged. There will be a new generation Food Guide Pyramid released later this year.