The New USDA Dietary Guidelines, Decoded

In an effort to improve the overall health of our nation, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released new dietary guidelines (January 2011). The revised guidelines place a stronger emphasis on reducing calorie consumption and increasing physical activity.

Here's what you need to know:

Dietary Guidelines: What's New

1. Lower your sodium intake.
Why? Because Americans consume way too much sodium-on average 3,400 milligrams a day. Sodium is linked to hypertension, diabetes, and kidney disease. The USDA currently recommends less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium (about 1 teaspoon) daily.

If you consume a lot of processed foods and eat at restaurants frequently, you are almost certain to ingest more than the recommended amount. tWhat you can do is consume more fresh foods; eat or pack more home-cooked meals, and ask that salt not be added to your take out or restaurant meals.

2. Drink low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy products.
The USDA sanctions dairy products such as lowfat milk, yogurt, cheese and fortified-soy beverages. Whole milk is for children under the age of 2, only.

3. Eat more seafood.
At least eight ounces (two servings) of fish per week is currently recommended. Even for pregnant women (where mercury levels can be worrisome), the health benefits of eating fish far outweigh the risks. Salmon, mackerel and albacore tuna are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to minimize the risk of coronary heart disease.

4. Incorporate whole grains into your diet.
Food labels in this area can be confusing. On bread "whole grain" is the ingredient to look for. It means that the grain flour used to prepare the product has not been refined and the nutrients are still intact. Beware of "whole wheat." Often that means 100% wheat flour, but not necessarily 100% whole grain flour.

Other sneaky labeling terms that appear healthy but aren't:  unbleached, enriched, stone-ground flour, multi-grain and bran. Look for bread that lists whole wheat or whole grain as the first ingredient.

Generally speaking, the shorter the list of ingredients, the more nutritious the bread. Healthy bread should also be 100 calories or less per slice and contain three or more grams of fiber per slice. If any of the first three ingredients on the list ends in -ose (glucose, lactose, and sucrose) or has corn syrup, keep looking.

5. Cut down on saturated fats.
According to the dietary guideline report, most Americans consume nearly 800 calories a day from solid fats and added sugars found in sugary beverages and sweets such as cookies, cakes, and doughnuts. That's quite a bit considering the recommended daily caloric needs for the average woman is between 1,600 and 2,400 calories and 2,000 to 3,000 calories daily for men.

To consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids, concentrate on replacing saturated fat with good fats such as monounsaturated fatty acids (found in walnuts, pistachios, avocadoes, and olive oil) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in salmon, fish oil, and safflower oil).

Dietary Guidelines: What's Still Essential?

6. Consume fewer calories.
At meal times, fill half the plate with fruit and veggies.

7. Watch the sugar.
Read nutrition labels and look for added sugars, which often hide behind ingredients such as lactose or anything else ending in -ose, malt syrup, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates.

8. Eat less meat and incorporate more plants into your diet.
This is a good way to lower the dietary cholesterol consumption.

9. Fight fat.
Good fats are monounsaturated fats such as canola or olive oil or polyunsaturated fats like corn, peanut or sesame oil.

10. Eat more fruit.
The USDA recommends about four half cup servings of fruit a day. Choose in-season fruits. In winter, for example, buy bananas, oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and pears.

11. Get moving.
Sixty minutes of physical activity each day for children and adolescents ages 6 years and older is the current recommendation.

12. Control portions.  
There's no reason to encourage membership in the clean plate club.

If you eat out, be aware that most restaurant portions may be two, three, or more times the recommended serving size. Encourage family members to eat half and take home the rest.

To learn more, visit: MyPyramid has guidelines to help you figure out how much food kids and adults should have based on age, gender and level of physical activity.


American Academy of Pediatrics

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a non-profit, health advocacy organization

Nemours Kids Health