Hey Americans, Just Eat Less

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.’

Or rather:

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 hypertensiondiabetes 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.

New York Times analysis of the new guildlines quotes Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University and a ‘critic of government nutrition guidance’:

“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.

So why not go here and read those guidelines, perhaps before your next trip to the grocery store?

Photo by Nick Saltmarsh.


W. C
W. C1 years ago

I also agree with Aurelien Barral's comment.

William C
William C1 years ago

I agree with Aurelien Barral's comment, thank you.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Natasha Salgado
Past Member 6 years ago

Gotta cut back on those portion sizes!!!!

federico bortoletto

Molto interessante,grazie.

federico bortoletto

Molt interessante,grazie.

Valerie G.
Val G7 years ago

Great article!
Thank you Kristina...

Aurelien B.
Aurelien Barral8 years ago

I find it so sad that they can't rely on other things that fat shaming and the simplistic solution "eat less" as if it was the problem for everyone...
Urgh, can't even add more... just some useful links:

oh and for the ones who understand french:

(by the way, the post to which I link here are not written by me)

Ian Donelson
Ian Donelson8 years ago

Even though the average caloric intake is up over 2000 calories a day a person should be actually eating in between 1400 and 1600 if you do heavy lifting just add protein shakes depending on intensity of the exercise.

Jessie M.
Jessie M8 years ago

Good info. I found simply using a measuring cup when I'm portioning my meals made me eat less! There's not much difference between a cup and a cup and a quarter but all those quarter cups add up over the years!