In its newly released five-year update of dietary guidelines for Americans, the government, as expected, endorsed healthy foods, smaller portions and physical activity. A Duke University Medical Center dietitian said the new recommendations also emphasize disease prevention more than ever. The 2005 dietary guidelines, issued in January, are not radically different from previous recommendations, said Marilyn Sparling, a registered dietitian at Duke. She said what is new in the latest guidelines is a much greater emphasis on preventing disease.
“Because there’s more urgency with risk for the chronic diseases we’re facing in society today — whether it’s diabetes, hypertension, or being overweight or obese — they really did a lot of work going back for the scientific basis and underpinnings of the guidelines,” Sparling said. “I think this is the first time this message has played a significant role in determining the recommendations, not only for promoting health but for reducing the risk of chronic disease. There’s good scientific evidence for all these basic recommendations.”
There is even greater stress on physical activity in the new guidelines, said Starling.
“For maintaining good health, you’re fine with 30 minutes most days of the week. However, to lose weight or prevent weight gain, you’re going to need 60 to 90 minutes most days. We can’t get away from it. Since almost two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, this is a serious matter. And they’re not only saying that regular physical activity is important, you also have to balance it with your calorie intake.”
Sparling noted that the new guidelines emphasize substituting nutrient-dense foods for calorie-dense foods.
“For example, there’s clear advice about eating fruits themselves, instead of juice, as well as the importance of whole grains and vegetables and other high-fiber foods,” she added.
“What’s missing from these guidelines is a focus on sugars by themselves. They’re included in a category called, ‘healthy carbohydrates.’ There is, however, attention given to the amount of added sugars, that is, sugars put in during processing.”
Sparling said the new guidelines also recommend limiting our intake of sodium, saturated fat, trans fat and alcohol.
One welcome improvement, she said, is the clear terminology used for serving sizes. The use of common, everyday measures, such as a cup, will be more meaningful to most Americans than the more confusing ‘portions’ of earlier guidelines.
The bottom line, said Sparling, is that we need to eat less and move more.
“Regular exercise and physical activity, most days of the week, is incredibly important. Being active and cutting back a little on your usual portion size across the board is extremely beneficial to overall health. That’s where I think a dietitian can help: how do we implement these guidelines realistically into your individual lifestyle?”