Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Feds Clarify Healthy Eating

I know I'm not the only person who didn't like the My Pyramid healthy eating guide published in 2005 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The graphic features a stick figure climbing a pyramid made up of what looks like slices of pumpkin, lime, cherry, lemon, blueberry, and huckleberry pie. I don't think that's what the USDA meant to convey.

In late January, though, the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) got a few things right with their new (2010) Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines are reviewed and updated every five years. This latest update focuses more clearly on combating the rising rates of obesity and chronic disease among Americans.

The updated guidelines encourage Americans to pay attention to the amount of calories they consume and the amount of exercise they get. The guidelines also encourage replacing unhealthy foods with more nutrient-rich foods at each meal. Specifically, Americans should limit the amount of sodium, saturated fatty acids, dietary cholesterol, trans fatty acids, solid fats, added sugars, refined grains, and alcohol they consume. They should eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy and soy products, low-fat proteins, and seafood.

The new recommendations also stress eating a wider variety of healthy foods. For example, Americans should eat more red, orange, and dark-green vegetables, and eat a wider range of proteins (such as beans, nuts, and seeds). I think that a lack of variety - or perhaps simply a lack of imagination - is one of the greatest flaws of the typical American diet, which seems to be built on the four pillars of chicken, cheese, bread, and soda.

To help you start eating better, the February issue of Real Simple has an article on "The 30 Healthiest Foods." These foods include whole-grain pasta, barley, almonds, kale, avocados, sweet potatoes, oranges, and pumpkin. I recently made Real Simple's nutrient-rich recipe for spinach salad with salmon, barley, and oranges, which was very good, and a nice start for a healthier year.

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