Fruits, veggies, grains top new guidelines

The new Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans call for lots more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars and salt. Most importantly, they call for all Americans to exercise more.

The new guidelines were released Jan. 12 jointly by the Dept. of Agriculture and the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS). Tommy Thompson, outgoing HHS secretary, described them as “scientifically based” and “common sense.” The American Dietetic Assn. said they “provide valuable and realistic recommendations based on the latest scientific research to help people eat well and stay healthy.”

Generally, they suggest, “Consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages within and among the basic food groups while choosing foods that limit the intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt, and alcohol.”

The key recommendations are for “2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables per day,” coming from a variety of fruits and vegetables. “In particular, select from all five vegetable subgroups (dark green, orange, legumes, starchy vegetables, and other vegetables) several times a week.”

Another key: “Consume three or more 1-oz. equivalents of whole-grain products per day, with the rest of the recommended grains coming from enriched or whole-grain products. In general, at least half the grains should come from whole grains.” Milk is maintained: “Consume 3 cups per day of fat-free or low-fat milk or equivalent milk products.”

They also recommend “less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids and less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol, and keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible. Keep total fat intake between 20 to 35 percent of calories, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils.”

For the first time, the guidelines include strong recommendations for exercise. “Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, above usual activity, at work or home on most days of the week.” For children and adolescents, the exercise recommendation increase to “at least 60 minutes of physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week.”

The guidelines warn, “Major causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States are related to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Some specific diseases linked to poor diet and physical inactivity include cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, and certain cancers.”

They also include tips to avoid microbial foodborne illness.

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, president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation (www.5aday.com), Wilmington, Del. "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, says 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 for a healthy living pattern.”

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, D.C. (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.”

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