I’ve been reading through the new USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, as well as reading through the enormous amount of online analysis. The sheer quantity of news items written about these guidelines help convey the impact the guidelines have on our policy system, if not on how actual Americans decide what to eat. The last time these guidelines were updated, 2005, they were lame and vague, with advice like, “eat more vegetables.” Now the message is more clear, concise and concrete, “make half your plate fruits and vegetables” and “drink water instead of sugary drinks” and one of my favorites, “enjoy your food, but eat less.”
As the nation’scrisis continues unabated, federal regulators on Monday issued their bluntest advice to date: drink water instead of sugary drinks like soda, fill your plate with fruits and vegetables and cut down on processed foods filled with sodium, fat or sugar. More important, perhaps, the government told Americans, “Enjoy your food, but eat less.” Many Americans eat too many every day, expanding their waistlines and imperiling their health.
While the recommendations may seem obvious, it is nonetheless considered major progress for federal regulators, who have long skirted the issue, wary of the powerful food lobby. (The 112-page report even subtly suggests that people eat less pizza and dessert.)
Previous guidelines urged Americans to curb sugar, solid fats and salt, but avoided naming specific foods, let alone urging consumers to eat less food over all.
“For them to have said ‘eat less’ is really new. Who would have thought?” said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the. “We should have been saying ‘eat less’ for a decade.”
Ms. Wootan said she was nonetheless pleased that the guidelines provided “understandable and actionable” advice rather than the “big vague messages” of the past.
For instance, she applauded the advice to make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
The report translates its advice on pages 62 to 68. It translates “Cut back on foods and drinks with added sugars,” a nutrition euphemism, as:
Drink few or no regular sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and fruit drinks. Eat less cake, cookies, ice cream, other desserts, and candy. If you do have these foods and drinks, have a small portion.
But it translates “Cut back on solid fats” in yet another euphemism: “Select lean meats and poultry, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.” This, no doubt, is to avoid the politically impossible “eat less meat.”
The report makes it clear that the food environment strongly influences the food choices of individuals, and it urges efforts to
• Improve access to healthy foods
• Empower people with improved nutrition literacy, gardening and cooking skills
• Develop policies to prevent and reduce obesity
• And for kids, fix school meals, encourage physical activity, and reduce screen time
In short, there is plenty to work with here. You just have to look hard and dig deep to find it.