New U.S. Dietary Guidelines Emphasize Grains, Fruit
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RAY SUAREZ: Every five years, the government must issue a set of dietary guidelines, guidelines that provide a broad outline for Americans about eating and exercising.
Today’s report was the sixth time those guidelines have been released. Here to tell us more about them is our health correspondent, Susan Dentzer.
Now, Susan, what is a guideline? Is it a diet? Is it a requirement?
SUSAN DENTZER: Ray, over the last 15 years, the guidelines have become both a recommendation for what you should eat but also a recommendation about how much you should exercise, to balance calorie intake as well as calorie expenditure. So these guidelines specifically speak to both as of course the 2000 guidelines did. But they’ve changed. And this will have an impact.
It will have an impact on things like the federal school lunch program. There are tens of millions of kids eating school lunches and school breakfasts in some cases everyday. It’s going to change what they eat. It will change the so-called government food guidance which most of us know as the food pyramid. That’s going to be adapted in coming weeks also on the basis of these guidelines.
RAY SUAREZ: So what is the government recommending about exercise, for instance, physical activity.
SUSAN DENTZER: Specifically on exercise, what the government is now saying, let’s take 2000, for example, in 2000, the recommendation was that all adults should get about a half an hour per day of exercise on most days of the week; moderate exercise, moderate activity.
Now in 2005 what the government is saying is in effect that’s true, people should still get about a half an hour, adults should still get about half an hour a day but if you’re trying to maintain your weight, that is to say, not gain weight or lose weight – and of course that’s most American adults right there– you should be exercising an hour a day, 60 minutes.
And children overall should also be exercising 60 minutes a day, whether they’re trying to gain weight, lose weight, what have you. That’s balanced against the calorie requirements, which have also changed.
In 2000, they talked about a reference of 2,200 calories a day for adult men and women. That’s now been bumped down to a reference point, if you will, of 2,000 calories a day, it’s about a 9 percent reduction.
That’s 1800 calories a day for adult women, 2200 for adult men; 2000 is an average of those two. Lots of experts would have liked them to be even more explicit and recommend even lower calorie consumption levels, but overall the message coming from the government now is frankly Americans should be eating less; calorie counts should be going down.
RAY SUAREZ: Okay. So let’s look at how the government is recommending you live and eat underneath that 2,000-calorie umbrella.
SUSAN DENTZER: On the specific food, things have changed and are changing fairly dramatically over time. And essentially the overall message is Americans ought to be eating a diet that is much more plant-based than was indicated in the past.
For example, there’s a section in the guidelines now called foods to encourage. The word meat and poultry isn’t even mentioned. Really the emphasis is on fruits and vegetables.
And if you look specifically on fruits and vegetables in 2000 what the government was saying is five servings a day of about half a cup each, in other words, two and a half cups a day of fruits and vegetables. That’s been bumped up to nine servings a day: Two cups of fruits, two and a half cups of vegetables for a total of four and a half cups in those two food groups, a big difference.
Look at grains, another change. The old government guideline said six servings a day of bread, pastas, cereals, et cetera. The new guidelines first of all differentiate among types of grains for the first time. It puts emphasis on whole grains in particular such as you get from brown rice.
And half of it – it says three ounces a day should be coming from those whole grains, three ounces a day should be coming from enriched grains, that would be things like breakfast cereals that are fortified with folic acid and so forth. There’s a clear differentiation, you shouldn’t eat just overall grains; these are the kinds of grains you should be eating.
RAY SUAREZ: So in addition to changing three amounts, portion sizes, types of foods, have they also made new recommendations altogether, taking a look at different substances?
SUSAN DENTZER: Yes. Specifically dairy, for example, those requirements have also gone up from two to three cups a day was the 2000 recommendation; those have moved to three cups a day and specifically low-fat or fat-free milk is what’s indicated. The old guidelines said preferably low-fat, fat-free. Now it’s clear. This should be what it ought to be.
Then if you look at some other things, for example, sodium and potassium, the government guidelines now say no more than 2300 milligrams a day of sodium. That’s about a teaspoon. That’s down from the earlier recommendations. And you ought to balance that with potassium, which together is going to have an influence on your overall blood pressure. So that’s a change.
Another important one to single out is sugars. Specifically what this report said, for example, is if you eat a healthy diet and you’re meeting all your other nutrient needs, you’re going to have about, if you’re aiming for a 2,000-calorie a day diet, you’re going to have maybe 267 calories or so to play with to think of a kind of a splurge.
You have that splurge — no more than the equivalent of eight teaspoons of sugar a day; now that’s less sugar than is in one can of Coca-Cola. So it’s basically telling us lower our sugar intake as well.
RAY SUAREZ: What’s potassium in? I mean if you want to take these recommendations to heart, what should you eat?
SUSAN DENTZER: Well, they say first of all you should try to get it from food, so leafy green vegetables, root vegetables, sweet potatoes. You can get potassium in things like fish and in fact if you can go on the government’s Web site on this and check. There are lots of information available on other sources of potassium too.
RAY SUAREZ: Do we know, do we have any good data on whether people follow these guidelines, whether, for instance, a number of adults are following the old guidelines, the 2000 ones.
SUSAN DENTZER: We have good data that brings bad news. Specifically it’s believed that only about one in eight Americans were eating healthy diets along the lines of the old guidelines. So there’s a long, long way to go.
And, in fact, that was a main emphasis of many of the commentators today on what these new guidelines mean. The guidelines are great but they’re only so good as people follow them, number one.
And consumers are really going to have to change their eating patterns and their exercise patterns to come anywhere close to these guidelines. In addition to that, the food industry is going to have to continue to adapt.
Many companies have already announced… Kraft announced today, for example, it was going to stop advertising sugary snacks for children. Companies have begun to announce that they’re going to take transfats out of foods, which is another point of the guidelines.
The guidelines said you should eat as few transfats as possible, low amounts as possible. Those are the fats that are added to processed foods basically to keep them, to preserve them, to extend their shelf life. So the industry has to continue to move in that direction. Unless it does, the proof, as it were, will not be in the pudding that these guidelines will really translate into meaningful health improvements for Americans.
RAY SUAREZ: Susan, thanks a lot.
SUSAN DENTZER: Thanks, Ray.