Today the USDA and HHS announced new guidelines to help Americans make healthier food choices and confront the obesity epidemic.  The 7th edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans places a stronger emphasis on reducing calorie consumption and increasing physical activity.

With an estimated 68% of Americans overweight or obese it is no wonder the guidelines focus on trimming our waistlines to reduce the risk of developing diet-related chronic diseases.  The new recommendations claim to give individuals the information they need to make thoughtful choices of healthier foods in the right portions.  But I wonder if just by stating the 23 key recommendations, Americans will be able to actual make the changes needed to improve their health.

As a registered dietitian, I work with behavior change almost daily.  I know that simply giving out healthy information is not enough; most often we need concrete guidance on how to reach our goals.  That means giving consumers hands-on, practical recommendations that will help them implement the dietary guideline recommendations.  Here are a few of my favorite key recommendations and some tips on putting them into action:

1.) Drink water instead of sugary beverages.

  • If you’re a past client of mine, this probably sounds familiar.  When we drink calories it is easy to consume more than we might like.  For example, 1 small apple is a serving of fruit, as is ½ cup of apple juice. Yet drinking 1 ½ cups of juice at one sitting is a lot easier than eating 3 small apples.

2.) Enjoy real food but eat less.

  • It is important to understand how to continue to eat our favorite foods.  Often, just eating less will be enough.  However, it is important to evaluate whether or not the foods you choose to put into your body are healthful.  If treat day has turned into “everyday,” it’s time to reset and get some solid guidance.

3.) Reduce daily sodium to less than 2300 mg and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age that are African American, or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.  This includes children!

  • We take in too much salt.  Period!  It’s time to cut back and start paying attention to the amount of sodium we put into our bodies.  This means reducing processed foods, prepare foods without salt and eat more foods that are naturally sodium free (such as fruits and vegetables.)
  • To keep foods fun and flavorful, use herbs, spices and seasonings.
  • Switch to fresh or frozen instead of canned.
  • Compare food labels and choose foods with less sodium

4.) Use oils to replace solid fats where possible

  • Rather than spreading butter on your bread use olive oil
  • Use hummus or salsa on a baked potato in place of butter and drizzle the olive oil over your veggies.

We need to think of the recommendations set forth in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans our long-term goal and set weekly short-term goals to get there.  Maybe this week you decide that you will eat a fruit at breakfast daily.  Then next week you decide to experiment with a certain herb.  Any healthier small change that you make is sure to pay off in your future.

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