New federal dietary guidelines emphasize urgency

March 17, 2011

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Urgency to improve the American diet became even more obvious as new federal dietary guidelines were released earlier this year by the United States Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services.

The guidelines initially were created in 1980 to help Americans eat healthy diets and are revised every five years. They form the basis of federal nutrition policy, outreach, education and food assistance programs.

"Everyone needs to pay attention," said Anne Hoisington, Oregon State University Extension Family and Community Health specialist for the Portland metro area. "Heart disease and diabetes are major problems in this country. If we follow these guidelines on healthy food choices and physical exercise, we can help defend against these diseases in all Americans, even the very young."

The 2010 dietary guidelines go beyond previous guidelines, Hoisington said, with strategies to manage body weight through all ages of life. The also include research on various eating patterns, including vegetarian and vegan.

"Recommended amounts and varieties of both marine and freshwater seafood also have changed," Hoisington said. The guidelines now recommend at least eight ounces of seafood each week in place of some meat and poultry. Women who are pregnant or nursing should eat eight to 12 ounces each week of fish that are lower in mercury such as salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, Pacific oysters, trout and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel – but not king mackerel, which is high in mercury.

"For the first time, the dietary guidelines say to focus on foods within each group that are high in nutrients, rather than on recommended amounts from each group," Hoisington said. "And, specific foods are limited because of their SoFaS (solid fats and added sugars), which add extra calories at the expense of nutrients."

Hoisington has been an award-winning registered dietitian at OSU for 11 years. Following is her overview of questions likely to be asked about the new guidelines.

Q. Why is there so much concern about obesity?
According to the report, the number of obese young Americans, ages 12 to 19, has tripled since the early 1970s. The number of obese adults has more than doubled.

Q. What action steps are recommended?

  • Reduce overweight and obesity with reduced calorie intake and more physical activity.
  • Emphasize eating vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
  • Consume moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry and eggs.
  • Significantly reduce eating solid fats and added sugars; reduce sodium and refined grains that are coupled with SoFaS (solids fats and added sugars), such as pastries and other desserts.
  • Reduce daily sodium intake from processed foods.
  • Use oils to replace solid fats where possible.
  • Choose foods that provide potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
  • Meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

Q. What are whole grains and why is it important to eat them?
Whole grain products such as breads, pastas and cereals are made with whole kernels of grain. Refining grain removes the outer covering and much of the nutrition and fiber. Whole grain foods and flours are 100 percent whole wheat, brown rice, bulger, corn, buckwheat, oatmeal, spelt and wild rice.

Q. The guidelines say to avoid calories from solid fats and added sugars, but what are they?
Solid fats. Most fats with a high percentage of saturated and/or trans fatty acids such as butter, chicken fat and stick margarine are solid at room temperature. The fat in fluid milk also is solid fat (butter), but is suspended in milk when homogenized.

Solid fats contribute an average of 19 percent of the total calories in American diets, but few essential nutrients and no dietary fiber. Major food sources of solid fats in the American diet are desserts, pizza, cheese, sausage, bacon and fried white potatoes.

Added sugars. The majority of sugars in typical American diets are added to foods during processing, preparation or at the table. Their calorie contribution is staggering, as they contribute an average of 16 percent of the total calories in American diets. Sodas, energy drinks and sports drinks are the third highest contributor of calories for children and adolescents and the fourth highest contributor for adults. Added sugars include high fructose corn syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, pancake syrup, fructose sweetener, liquid fructose, honey, anhydrous dextrose and crystal dextrose.

Q. Why is it important to reduce sodium in the diet?
Sodium is an essential nutrient needed in relatively small quantities. On average, high sodium intake contributes to high blood pressure. Americans consume more salt than they need, primarily from sodium added to processed foods.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans report is online.

Author: Judy Scott
Source: Anne Hoisington