At first glance, not much has changed. According to the just-released 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we eat too much sugar, saturated fat and sodium. And we don’t get our quota of vegetables, fruit, dairy or vegetable oils.
What has changed is the focus. This latest scientific review of the impact of nutrition on our health concludes that we need to cut back on individual components in our food such as sugar, saturated fat and sodium. At the same time we are encouraged to consume more nutrient-dense combinations of foods, especially vegetable-based foods and those high in calcium.
It’s kind of like a puzzle, say our nation’s top nutrition experts. What emerges is a healthy eating pattern — food choices that meet our nutrient needs without a lot of extra sugar, salt or saturated fat.
What’s the big deal about putting these guidelines into practice? Close to one of every two American adults now suffers with at least one disease that could have largely been prevented with a better diet; that includes high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. It is a big deal.
For example: Let’s say you decide to buy split pea soup because it is a protein- and nutrient-rich vegetable. As you compare products, you decide to buy the one that has: a) a pretty picture on the label; b) less sodium; c) less saturated fat. Answer: b and c.
You are packing lunch. You decide to make: a) a tuna sandwich on whole grain bread with tomato and a slice of low fat cheese with an apple; b) salami … on white bread with chips and dip; c) forget it, I’ll just grab a soda. Best answer: a.
You are hungry for a snack. Instead of your usual candy bar, you choose trail mix because: a) dried fruit and unsalted nuts count as fruit and healthy fat; b) you are trying to eat less sugar and saturated fat; c) your mother packed it for you. All can be correct.
A more specific “Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern” — food choices most strongly associated with enhanced health — is also introduced in these latest guidelines:
Vegetables of every color and type, including beans and legumes: 2 or more cups daily
Fruit: 1 or 2 cups daily
Whole grains: 3 or more servings per day
Seafood: 8 ounces a week
Poultry, eggs, soy products and lean meat (such as 95 percent lean ground beef): 5 ounces daily
Fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese or fortified soy beverage: 2 to 3 cups daily
Plant-based fats such as olive or canola oils, avocados, and unsalted nuts: 5 teaspoons daily