The Dietary Guidelines are updated, by law, every five years with the latest release being January 31, 2011. This is a joint effort by the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS). This latest version emphasizes three areas: balancing calories, foods to increase, and foods to decrease. Sometimes along with these guidelines a new icon is created. In 1991 we had the “food guide pyramid”, in 2005 this was updated to “MyPyramid”, and now in 2011 we have “MyPlate”. I actually like the new MyPlate icon and we’ll take a brief look at the updates here. If you would like detailed information on the updates you can visit the USDA website at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/. Briefly, the goal of the guidelines is to promote overall health.
If you look at the MyPlate icon you will see the plate is divided into four sections. The vegetable and grain section are both a little larger than a quarter of the plate each, and the fruit and protein sections are bit smaller. Also, off to the side is a dairy section. This signifies three servings of dairy per day, or one each meal. Dairy does not have to be only milk; low-fat cheese or yogurt would also be good choices. The important message is dairy provides calcium and vitamin D in your daily diet.
Let’s take a look at the three areas the guidelines want to emphasize. Balancing calories is important as it relates to body weight. Some foods and beverages are higher in calories and it is suggested that you eat lower calorie nutrient-dense foods. This means, cut down on the high fat, high sugar products and eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, which are not only lower in calories but nutrient dense. Studies have shown that diets higher in dietary fiber correlate to lower body weight. Portion control is also very important, so downsize your portions. You can achieve this by eating on smaller plates or serving smaller portions at home. If you are at a restaurant either share your entrée or box half to take home for another meal the next day.
Foods to increase are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables. Eat a variety of color, dark green, red, and orange vegetables. Add some cooked dry beans or peas to your plate. And for your grains, try to make at least half of them on a daily basis whole grains. For example, try switching from white rice to brown rice. It may be easier to do this slowly by mixing half-and-half to start. Also, make a switch from whole milk (unless you are 2 years old or younger) to low fat (1%) or fat-free. You’ll still get all the nutrients as whole milk but with less calories and fat.
Foods to reduce in your diet are high salt foods and high sugary drinks. Compare the sodium levels in foods like soups, breads, and frozen meals and choose the product with the least amount. Also, don’t fall victim to the food manufactures front of package marketing. I noticed a can of soup shouting “no msg”, so I looked at the nutrition label. What the label didn’t “shout” was that it has more than half-a-days sodium per serving, so it still was not a good choice. Regarding sugar, the guidelines suggest no more than 100 – 150 calories per day of added sugar. One 12-ounce can of soda provides 150 calories or about 10 teaspoons of sugar. That’s your daily allowance, so if you get added sugar in other foods or drink more than one soda per day you are over your sugar intake. FYI, sugar has no nutritional value, just added calories. On the other hand, the natural sugar in fruit is a different story, your body actually has to work to break down the sugar components, so you are burning calories, and the fruit provides fiber and nutrients.
I invite you to give the new MyPlate a try. Always think that half of what you eat at each meal should contain “color” (fruits and vegetables). For your grains try to make at least half of them whole grains on a daily basis and keep your protein portions in check and choose lower fat options. Remember the goal of the guidelines is to make us all healthy with a healthy weight. Eat well, be well.
If you would like a quick review of your daily/weekly intake just visit my services page to learn more about my “app” MealLogger.