[This article was written by the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist team on Amwell]
Sugar is out and fruits and vegetables will always be good for you. That’s according to the new set of Dietary Guidelines released by the federal government last week. These guidelines are put out by the U.S. every five years, to help Americans improve their eating habits to prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, achieve a healthy weight and promote overall good health. To keep up with the evolution of nutrition science, the recommendations lay out healthy dietary patterns, which have been shown in research to be the best for health.
For the most part, the guidelines don’t change too much, but there are some nuances that have changed over the years. This year, the government took the theme of looking at dietary patters as a whole, rather than looking at specific foods and nutrients. The notable changes of the eighth edition of the guidelines are listed below.
Added Sugars: For the first time ever, the guidelines set a strict limit for sugar intake, recommending and intake of no more than 10% of total calories per day from added sugars. That recommendation could lead to a new “added sugars” notification on food labels, which the FDA proposed earlier this year.
Cholesterol: The new version of The Dietary Guidelines will no longer limit cholesterol as there is new evidence to support that cholesterol from food has no impact whatsoever on blood cholesterol levels. While high-cholesterol foods like eggs are off the hook, the committee is still adamant that saturated fat promotes heart disease, and recommends limiting both trans-fat and saturated fat in diets.
Healthy Eating Pattern for Life: The guidelines emphasize an eating pattern for life that focuses on getting nutrients from a variety of healthful foods like fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, low fat dairy, and oils, rather than supplements. This version also promotes the Mediterranean and Vegetarian diets as two examples of healthful eating style approaches.
So what does this all mean and why does it matter? These guidelines are set in place to form policy changes like food labeling, school lunches, and official publications of nutrition for the government and of course encourage healthier habits for the country. Here are some ways you can incorporate the changes in your daily diet.
Recommendation #1: Your daily intake of sugar-calories should be less than 10%
Putting it into Practice: Unfortunately, nutrition labels on food packages only list “total sugar”. To determine if a product has added sugars refer to the product’s ingredient list. Some key words to look out for are sucrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, honey, glucose syrup, evaporated cane juice, and agave nectar. To determine how many teaspoons of sugar are in a product divide the total sugars by 4. For example, if a product contains 32 grams of sugar that equals 8 teaspoons of sugar (32/4=8).
Cut on your sugar intake by avoiding drinks like soda, fruit juice, sports drinks, sweets, and packaged snacks as those products contain the most sugar. If yogurt is your go-to snack, avoid yogurts with fruit and instead choose plain yogurt and sweeten it with 1-2 squirts of honey and a handful of fresh fruit.
Recommendation #2: Eat less than 10% of daily calories of saturated fats
Putting it into Practice: The main culprits of high levels of saturated fat are red meat, full fat dairy products, like whole milk, cheese, and butter, and fried foods. To reduce your saturated fat intake, try to incorporate lower fat dairy products and lean cuts of red meat in your diet. Most importantly, reduce your consumption of fast food, butter and cheese.
Recommendation #3: Eat less than 2300 milligrams (mg) of salt per day.
Putting it into Practice: Eating too much salt has been linked to high blood pressure. Instead of eating packaged, canned and frozen foods, fast food and bread products, opt for products labeled “low sodium” or “no sodium” and aim to include foods naturally low in sodium like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa, and low fat dairy products.
Recommendation #4: Eat more fruits and vegetables.
Putting it into Practice: The majority of Americans fall short of meeting their daily requirements for fruits and vegetables. There is no denying the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Vegetables are chock full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber needed to promote good health and fruits are a rich source of potassium and fiber along with other vitamins and minerals. Here are some quick tips to include more vegetables and fruits in your diet:
- Eat a salad for lunch or with dinner
- Make sure half your dinner or lunch plate is vegetables
- Try a veggie omelet for breakfast
- Enjoy baby carrots or celery and peanut butter for a snack
- Make a veggie soup or stew
- Enjoy a fruit and veggie smoothie (carrots, kale, and spinach all taste great in a smoothie!)
- Incorporate banana and berries to your bowl of breakfast cereal
- Enjoy a piece of fruit as a mid-morning or afternoon snack
- Stir some fruit into your favorite yogurt
Recommendation #5: Incorporate more whole grains in your diet.
Putting it into Practice: Next time you are at the grocery story, buy unrefined, whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, barley, and bulger. When looking for sandwich bread, choose 100% whole wheat or whole grain bread. In general, ½ cup of cooked cereal, rice, pasta, 1 slice of bread, and 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal is considered a recommended amount of whole grains.
Recommendation #6: If you are eating a 2,000 calolrie diet, make sure to include 5½ ounce-equivalents of protein foods per day.
Putting it into Practice: The recommendation for protein foods in the Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern at the 2,000-calorie level is 5½ ounces of protein foods per day. Lean sources of protein include fish, seafood, chicken, eggs, nuts, tofu, beans and low fat dairy. Protein foods are an important source of vitamins, like vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin E, and zinc and iron. Eating protein-filled foods also have an added benefit of making you feel fuller, longer. See below for servings sizes of protein foods:
- Meat, fish, seafood, and tofu = 3 ounces (about the size of a deck of cards or computer mouse)
- Nuts = ¼ cup nuts
- Beans = ½ cup
- Eggs = 1 egg or 3 tablespoons of egg whites
- Dairy = 1 cup milk (or milk alternative like soy or almond milk), 6 ounces of yogurt, 1 ounce of cheese
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