With so many different choices of what to eat and how to eat it, it is often difficult for people to make the right decisions when trying to balance their diets. However, Americans now have a new place to turn when looking for nutritional advice.
The Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services jointly issued last month the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans, updating the previous version issued five years ago. The guidelines seek to shape American dietary habits and encourage increased physical activity.
“The 2010 Dietary Guidelines are being released at a time when the majority of adults and one in three children [are] overweight or obese,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a Jan. 31 statement accompanying the guidelines. “This is a crisis we can no longer ignore.”
The guidelines, which are available online, specifically mention 23 healthy eating tips, and recommend that more than half of Americans significantly reduce their daily sodium intake. The guidelines also suggest that at least half of all grains consumed be whole grains rather than refined grains, and also advises an increase in the amount of seafood consumed in place of meat and poultry.
Although students may be unaware that such guidelines even exist, these government publications play a greater role in affecting the average American’s eating habits than expected.
According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the guidelines influence what meals are served at public schools and what information is placed on food labels.
“The new guidelines will pressure the food manufacturers to look at new formulations of foods providing less calories and more nutrient-dense versions of current offerings,” Bethesda nutritionist Livleen Gill said.
The new guidelines also make an explicit link between dietary habits and chronic diseases, seeking to raise Americans’ awareness of the risks of obesity.
According to school nurse Deborah Stapleton, adolescent obesity has increased in the past decade, and many students are making poor food choices; she urges students to be aware that there is hidden sugar in almost everything.
“The 2010 dietary guidelines have recognized that obesity is a national epidemic and are sending a clear message—eat less,” Gill said. “The prevention of obesity has to begin in childhood.”
The guidelines note that people tend to consume more food, and thus more calories, when larger portions are served. Research has shown that portion size, specifically smaller portion size, is associated with weight loss.
“Eating less will be the biggest challenge for Americans,” Gill said. “Portion control is a key aspect of nutrition.”