The Dietary Guidelines

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are a set of guidelines that advise us on how healthy dietary habits can promote overall health and reduce risk of various diseases. At the moment, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines remain the current guidance on healthy eating. The Dietary Guidelines are updated and re-published every 5 years by the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS).

This year just happens to be the year the guidelines are updated. I find this exciting, as it is interesting to review the dietary patterns of Americans over the past 5 years and see what changes need to be made in order to improve health. I thought I would take this opportunity to provide some information about the new proposed guidelines.
A few days ago, on June 15, a report on the Dietary Guidelines 2010 was released. This is an initial report, and the public can make comments on these guidelines until July 15, 2010. The Advisory Committee who put the report together will then have a series of committee meetings and review all the comments in preparation for completing the final version of the Dietary Guidelines 2010. The final guidelines will be released at the end of 2010.
In looking through the report, there were a few interesting things that caught my attention. Here are some of the key points:
As a result of the increasing number of Americans who have high blood pressure and are at risk for heart disease, the guidelines on fat and sodium have changed.
  • We should aim to eat no more than 7% of daily calories from saturated fat (the recommendations used to be no more than 10%)
  • We should replace saturated fat with monounsaturated fat (a healthier fat)
  • We should avoid trans fats from industrial sources (this means avoiding pre-packaged/convenience foods that have hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils)
  • We should aim for no more than 300mg of dietary cholesterol per day, but those at risk for heart disease or type 2 diabetes should aim for no more than 200mg per day
  • We should aim to eat 2 servings (4 oz per serving) of oily fish each week (this will help us achieve an average of 250mg of omega 3 fatty acids per day)
  • We should consume no more than 1,500mg of sodium per day (the recommendations used to be no more than 2,300mg per day)
  • We should consume at least 4,700mg of potassium per day (this has been shown to help reduce blood pressure)
Other important points include:
  • We should move toward eating a more plant-based diet, including whole grains, beans/lentils, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds
  • In general, Americans are eating too many solid fats, added sugars and refined carbohydrates
  • We should aim to reduce our consumption of calories from solid fats and added sugars
  • We should replace refined carbohydrates with whole grains
  • Multivitamins are not recommended for the general population, as we should be getting vitamins and minerals from whole foods rather than pills (this excludes certain groups of people who are at specific nutritional risk)
The report also states that there are certain nutrients that are under-consumed by Americans. These nutrients include: vitamin D, calcium, potassium and dietary fiber. As a result of this, the proposed guidelines recommend consuming more dairy or calcium-fortified dairy alternatives in order to increase our vitamin D and calcium content. The importance of eating adequate amounts of potassium is emphasized, as potassium has been found to be important in reducing blood pressure and risk of kidney stones as well as helping to prevent bone loss. We should be getting 4,700mg of potassium per day from our foods. In general, fruits and vegetables, beans, fish, and dairy products tend to be good sources of potassium. Similarly, the report discusses the importance of getting enough fiber by eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds.
The whole purpose of the Dietary Guidelines is to provide us with a list of suggestions to work toward in order to reduce our risk of disease and help us achieve healthy eating and nutritional balance. For those of you interested in checking out the report, click this link. If you’re interested in getting involved and providing comments (comments accepted through July 15) , click this link. I also came across this article, where you can watch an interview with a registered dietitian about the proposed guidelines. When you go to this article, click on the icon that says, ‘a look at the new USDA guidelines.’ Similarly I found this article, which discusses in greater detail the new salt recommendation.
I feel the Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide useful information in guiding healthy eating behaviors and patterns. I hope you find them useful as well.
Rachel Cope MPH, RD, CD