You could say that the message to Americans from the Department of Agriculture’s just-released Dietary Guidelines for Americans amounts pretty much to ‘just eat less.’
Just. Eat. LESS.
Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced the new guidelines today. Noting that ‘more than one-third of children and more than two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese,’ the new guidelines place ‘stronger emphasis on reducing calorie consumption and increasing physical activity.’
The Department of Agriculture revises the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years. Recommendations in the 2011 guidelines include eating more vegetables and limited saturated fats; these are, as the LATimes notes, ‘unremarkable.’ It’s the recommendation to Americans to eat less that is notable, especially at a time in which there is a ‘crisis‘ of obesity and diet-related diseases. A brief rundown of what’s in the guidelines:
- Enjoy your food, but eat less.
- Avoid oversized portions.
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
- Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers.
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
Also: anyone 51 or older, all African-Americans, children, and adults with hypertension, diabetes and chronic kidney disease are advised to cut their salt consumption to 1,500 milligrams a day. The recommendation for everyone else is 2,300 milligrams, the equivalent of a teaspoon. And it’s recommended for all of us to get less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids, and to replace these with so-called good fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
“They are blunter here than they’ve ever been before, and they deserve credit for that…..They said, ‘Eat less!’ I think that’s great, and to avoid oversized portions. That’s the two best things you should do.”
The best things, perhaps, but not easy for Americans in the age of the supersize-size of fries, soda, and McBurgers.
The 2005 revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans did lead to ‘major changes in the ingredients used by food manufacturers,’ with General Mills replaced the refined flours in its breakfast cereals with whole grain. But will restaurant chains be willing to decrease portion size, especially in a time of economic recession when consumers are even less than likely to pay the same amount of $$$ for a smaller amount of food?
Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, notes that she wishes that regulators could be more specific about what American SHOULD eat, rather than going into specifics about cutting back on calorie intake from ‘solid fats and added sugars.’ It would, she points out, be more effective to say something like:
“Cut back on cheese, hamburgers, pizza, cookies and pastries.”
I mean, how many people think an oatmeal cookie is a fine substitute for a bowl of rolled oats?
A little rewording of the guidelines might go a long way towards people actually acting on them. For all the effort and good will put into revising the guidelines, they are not particularly useful unless people read and understand what to do with them. After all, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack himself says that he was a little slow to get around to reading the guidelines—–”I must admit personally that I never read the dietary guidelines until I got this job,’ as he is quoted in the New York Times article—and changing his diet for the better.
Photo by Nick Saltmarsh.