How You Can Use The 2010 Dietary Guidelines To Improve Your Health

Posted Thu, 02/03/2011 - 5:57pm by Denise Reynolds

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Every five years, the federal government releases a report called the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans." This evidenced-based nutrition guide is aimed at encouraging the American people to make healthful choices to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, particularly those due to or related to being overweight or obese. For 2010, the changes in the Guidelines may seem subtle, but unfortunately, many of us fall short of actually implementing them into our daily lives.

Overall, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans focus on balancing calories with physical activity, and they encourage us to eat more healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lower fat dairy products and seafood. Those ingredients to avoid should seem familiar. They include sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars, and refined grains.

"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 we can no longer ignore," says US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Katheleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, adds,

"The new Dietary Guidelines provides concrete action steps to help people live healthier, more physically active, and longer lives."

The 'meat' of the guidelines (forgive the pun) are the 23 Key Recommendations for the general population (plus six additional tips for those in specific groups) which are the most important messages in terms of their implications for improving health. Many of these will be released in more detail over the next few months, according to the release by the USDA Office of Communications, but following are some of the highlights and how you can use those to make changes for yourself and your family.

Sodium intake should not exceed 2300 milligrams a day for the majority of Americans.

Go pour yourself a teaspoon of salt — a real teaspoon, not a soup spoon or a coffee spoon from your utensil drawer. This represents the total amount of salt you should consume in an entire day. It's not a lot. The average American consumes 3,400 milligrams, or just about 70% more than what is recommended.

Salt should be even more restricted in certain people, such as those over 51; those who suffer from diabetes, hypertension or chronic kidney disease; and those at high risk for these conditions, such as African Americans. For these people, an even more limited level of 1,500 milligrams is recommended.

Where does it all come from? While there may be some people who heavily salt their foods while they cook or at the dinner table, the majority of our sodium intake comes from processed foods and fast foods. Salt is added to many foods not only for flavor, but also as a preservative to extend shelf life.

To reduce your sodium intake, try some of the following techniques:

  • Avoid salting foods while cooking, but if you must, salt only a little and at the end of the cooking process so that it remains on the outside of the food. This will give you the desired taste with less sodium intake.
     
  • Try using herbs and spices when cooking instead of salt to add flavor to foods.
     
  • Keep the salt shaker off the table or try a salt substitute that replaces some of the sodium with potassium.
     
  • Buy and prepare fresh or frozen vegetables and other dishes as much as possible and avoid canned and boxed foods. Eat fresh meats instead of processed bologna, hot dogs, and sausage.
     
  • Stay away from fast food restaurants, and when eating out at a sit-down restaurant, ask that your food be prepared without salt.

Lower your intake of trans fatty acids, saturated fats, and cholesterol.

I've lumped three key recommendations together because these ingredients combined greatly increase the risk of heart disease.

We know that unsaturated fats such as canola oil and olive oil are better for our hearts than saturated fats that come from animal meats, palm oil, and whole fat dairy foods. The Dietary Guidelines asks that Americans lower saturated fat consumption to 10% of total calories. While the saturated fat content of most foods is listed on the nutrition facts label, it isn't always clear if you are meeting your goal.

To find how much saturated fat is right for you, take the total amount of calories you should eat in a day (the government averages this to 2000 calories a day for most American adults, but each individual need is different.) Fat grams contain 9 calories per gram, so a person eating 2000 calories should consume no more than 200 of these from saturated fat sources. This translates into less than 22 grams from saturated fat.

By the way, the American Heart Association actually states that 10% is probably too high, and recommends no more than 7% of calories from saturated fat. But if you are trying to make changes to your diet, take it one step at a time.

Trans fats are those fatty acids that start out as liquid unsaturated fats, but then undergo a chemical process that changes them to be more solid. On the label, you know they exist by reading the phrase "partially hydrogenated oils." Soon, trans fats will be more clearly labeled, but until then, just avoid foods that contain this ingredient. Actually, you are already doing this to avoid products filled with sodium, so by limiting processed foods you are doing your body twice as much good.

Cholesterol only comes from animal products, so if you lower your consumption of animal foods, you will also lower your cholesterol. If you choose to eat meat, make it a side dish instead of the main course and fill your plate with whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables instead.

Eat the foods you like, but less of them.

This is the 2010 Dietary Guidelines overarching message. Most of the foods we enjoy so much are OK in moderation, but when we eat too much, that is where the problems start. Reduce portion sizes so you are back within normal. (Remember that most portions are about the size of your hand, not the size of a dinner plate.) If you are a soda drinker, replace at least half of that with water to lower sugar intake. Consume alcohol in moderation. Reduce the amount of refined grains you eat.

All of these little steps add up over the course of time and you can make changes without feeling deprived of your favorites.

This post was included in the Athletic Alley Blog Carnival, #49.

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