The guidelines,revised by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services every five years,are part of the government’s broad public health reform.
“The president in his State of the Union address spoke of an America that out-innovated,out-educated and out-built the rest of the world. It’s extremely difficult to do any of that unless we are a healthy nation,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at a news conference. “It’s important to send a message to America’s families these guidelines are designed to provide them with healthy eating habits and lifestyles.”
The guidelines stress exercise and balancing the amount of calories consumed and expended as key ingredients to curb America’s obesity epidemic. Thirty-four percent of adults 20 and over were obese in 2007-2008,according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new guidelines recommend eating low-fat or fat-free milk-based products,choosing seafood over meat on certain occasions and consuming whole-grain products half of the time.
Acknowledging that Americans consume a substantial amount of sugar by drinking sodas and other sugary drinks,the guidelines recommend drinking water whenever possible. The guidelines repeat the 2005 guidelines recommendation of limiting intake of trans fatty acids found in packaged food and consuming less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids,such as those found in bacon.
Margo Wootan,director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest said she would like to have seen references to foods with high saturated fats such as cheese,pizza and cookies.
The guidelines call for daily sodium intake to be less than 2,300 milligrams. Vilsack said most Americans consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium.
The guidelines caution those with hypertension,chronic kidney disease and diabetes to limit their daily sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams. These groups were not included in the 2005 guidelines. In addition,blacks and all people 51 and older should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams.
Toby Smithson,a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a registered dietitian,said the inclusion of more groups affected by sodium is one of the biggest changes in the guidelines.
Public health groups said the new guidelines are a reflection of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama’s concerted effort to address health care. Smithson said she was impressed with how the new guidelines promote collaboration across government organizations on efforts such as food labeling and healthy school lunches.
Wootan said the government has acknowledged people view healthy eating as similar to swimming upstream and has introduced programs in the stimulus bill and health-care laws to subsidize the purchase of fruits and vegetables and encourage exercise. She said she was impressed with how the new guidelines translate scientific messages into plain and specific language.
“In the past,the government said eat less sugar and eat more vegetables. Now the guidelines say half of your plate should be fruit and vegetables and makes clear pop is the biggest source of sugar,” Wootan said.
Some food corporations,which have been blamed for promoting and selling unhealthy food,have begun to make healthy foods cheaper and more readily available. Two weeks ago,with Michelle Obama as a speaker,Walmart announced it is reformulating its food products and reducing sodium and added sugars.
Melissa Musiker,director of science,policy,nutrition and health at the Grocery Manufacturers Association and a registered dietitian,said food manufacturers take the guidelines seriously and use them as a forecasting tool. Musiker said food manufacturers are researching ways to reduce sodium and craft products consumers will enjoy in smaller portions.
“Research into ways to make food healthier is already happening,and we’ve seen an uptick in activity recently,” Musiker said.