2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Recommendations

Key recommendations from the 13 prominent medical and scientific researchers on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

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The advisory committee in June handed the federal government its recommendations for new dietary guidelines and wants to wage all-out war on obesity—not simply suggest, as earlier guidelines have, that Americans eat more of this (veggies and whole grains) and less of that (salt and fat), reports U.S. News & World Report. Key recommendations from the 13 prominent medical and scientific researchers and leaders in their fields across America include:

Think total diet
A concrete but flexible diet is more likely than one that is vague and rigid to succeed over time. Rather than saying that less than 10 percent of calories should come from saturated fat, the panel's guidelines promote nutrient-dense foods that are also low in saturated fat, such as whole-grain bread, produce, skim milk, and poultry, and discourage but never impose a total ban on foods like full-fat cheese, pizza, french fries, ice cream, and bacon. "A healthful total diet is not a rigid prescription, but rather is a flexible approach that incorporates a wide range of individual tastes and preferences," the panel wrote.

Salt is out, potassium in
To bring down the 70 percent of the adult population with hypertension, or high blood pressure, the recommended daily maximum for salt should be slashed to 1,500mg from the current 2,300mg. The lower number already is the suggested ceiling for Americans who are middle-aged or older or African-American, or who already have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Raising the blood level of potassium is another way to lower blood pressure, and many Americans don't get enough from foods like raisins, figs, and bananas; the panel recommends more than doubling the currently suggested 2,000mg a day to 4,700mg.

All fats aren't evil
Mono- and polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fats found in many cold-water fish are healthier substitutes for solid fats like butter, shortening, and animal fat. More fish and small quantities of unsalted nuts are recommended. So is dark chocolate, as evidence is building that it reduces blood pressure.

Low carbs vs. low fat: no winner
A "moderate body of evidence" fails to demonstrate that one or the other was superior for losing weight and keeping it off, the panel concludes. Eating less, the advisors note, is the only tried and true way to lose weight. They do find that high-quality protein from sources such as lean meats, poultry, eggs, and seafood can initially help pounds come off by quelling hunger, but they cite studies showing that over time the amount of protein in different diets has no bearing on weight loss or maintaining it.

Tofu and other veggie-based proteins aren't magic
Claims of unique health benefits of vegetable and soy protein aren't backed by good evidence, but the panel notes that these sources do add dietary fiber, and most Americans don't eat enough fiber-rich foods.

Americans should know how much they should eat
"If you ask any American how many calories they need on a given day, most of them are clueless," says Linda Van Horn, chair of the advisory committee. The panel believes that if people had a better sense of that, and of how many calories they take in, the obesity epidemic might be slowed. So the 2010 guidelines, says Van Horn, must offer effective, consumer-friendly tools to help individuals come up with reasonable estimates, personalized according to age, sex, and level of physical activity. The report does not propose a form for those tools.

Treat kids and pregnant women as special groups
Previous guidelines lumped all children ages 2 and up with adults and didn't address pregnant women separately. The advisors want the dietary needs of infants, children ages 2 to 18, and pregnant women treated separately. While all groups need to eat less overall, pregnant women need to seek out foods rich in folate and iron, while kids should give up soda for milk to bolster levels of vitamin D and calcium, nutrients essential for healthy bones.

Tackle childhood obesity before birth
"The only effective way to combat obesity is to never develop it in the first place," says Van Horn. Promoting nutrition and exercise when kids are young isn't enough. The report cites evidence from the Institute of Medicine that mothers who are obese when they are pregnant put their child at a greater risk of following suit when they get older. Prevention, the advisors said, must start in utero, with nutritional and exercise programs during and after pregnancy.

Put more emphasis on kids

According to the report, the incidence of overweight and obese kids since the early 1970s has approximately doubled among children ages 2 to 11 years and tripled among adolescents ages 12 to 19 years. Advice like "spend more time outside and less time in front of the TV" won't cut it in 2010. The environment at home, at school, and in the community needs a complete overhaul, the panel concludes: Get TVs out of children's bedrooms. Create safe routes for walking or biking to school. Organize recreational sports leagues that encourage kids who may not be athletically gifted to join up. Get soda and junk food out of school.

Change the environment
The report is the first to identify community barriers that get in the way of a healthy lifestyle and to offer suggestions for how to get around them. Healthy food should be cheaper and easier to find, say the advisors, especially in low-income neighborhoods. Among their solutions: open more grocery stores and promote farmers' markets. And to meet minimum weekly standards for physical activity of an hour of vigorous exercise or 2½ hours of moderate exercise, the report calls for more workplace help, perhaps by offering employees gym membership discounts and encouraging them to get up and move around during frequent breaks built into the work day.

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