After a lengthy, often conflict-ridden process the USDA released the new 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans on January 12. According to an American Dietetic Assoc. (www.eatright.org) press release, the guidelines “provide valuable and realistic recommendations based on the latest scientific research to help people eat well and stay healthy.” Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson described the new guidelines succinctly as being “scientifically based” and “common sense.”
Some of the changes that sparked the most excitement centered on whole grains and fruits and vegetables. "The best part of the new guidelines is the call for increased fruit and vegetable intake," says Elizabeth Pivonka, Ph.D., president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Wilmington, Del. (www.5aday.com). "In fact, the fruit and vegetable recommendations combined equal more than any other single food group. The guidelines make it clear that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can fight obesity and help people lead longer, healthier lives."
Another important revision was the specification of whole grains in the recommendations for cereals and grains. “The recommendation for at least three servings of whole grains each day is a welcome and important change,” comments K. Dun Gifford, president Oldways Preservation Trust, Boston (www.oldwayspt.org). “It gives consumers a specific, concrete goal. Recommendations for eating more whole grain foods are a longtime dream of health experts and scientists.”
Gifford, pioneer of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, notes of the guidelines in general, "The focus on weight management, physical activity and adequate nutrients and on specific whole foods places the new guidelines in the mainstream good company of the Mediterranean Diet, long acknowledged the 'gold standard' for a healthy living pattern.”
But all is not perfect. For example, there is the continued wholesale restriction against salt. “We take some issue with the department’s claim the recommendations are data-driven,” says Richard Hanneman, president of the Salt Institute, Alexandria, Va. (www.saltinstitute.org). “In the case of salt, the recommendations do not follow the most recent science — especially the very study the guidelines advisory committee reviewed to reach their recommendation,” he explains.
Hanneman’s concern is justifiable. Only a small percentage of the population is salt-sensitive, and the adverse effects of salt sensitivity are found only in conjunction with deficiencies of other minerals, such as potassium.
How can the guidelines help manufacturers position their products? “They are designed to address the increasing weight gain in the population,” says Sylvia Rowe, president and CEO of the International Food Information Council, Washington (www.ific.org). “So it is both an opportunity and challenge to communicate the recommendations in a useful and consumer-friendly way, to help individuals make wise choices about maintaining a healthful lifestyle and weight.”
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans are available at www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines.