With so many fad diets, juice cleanses, weight loss supplements and meal delivery services out there, it’s hard to know what’s truly healthy. Paleo? Optifast? Green smoothies? What really works?This is when I like to take a deep breath and go back to the research. Womp womp. Not a very glamorous task, but here in the U.S., a team of professionals re-evaluates these guidelines every 5 years! Enter… the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).
What are the dietary guidelines?
An official set of nutrition recommendations published every 5 years by the U.S. Government.
The government? That sounds shady. OK, by government I mean health professionals who are hired by the government--these are physicians, dietitians, PhDs, and public health experts who make up an
advisory committee. Their job is to sift through the most recent research on nutrition, and create a report on their findings.
Why do we need them?
Just like in any science, there are always new discoveries in nutrition. 60 years ago, butter had its own food group. 60 years from now, we might discover kale is actually bad for us (not likely, but you never know). So, we do our best to stay up on the research, see how various nutrients and foods affect our health, and try to do what’s best for us right now. The dietary guidelines are also what dictate our food graphics (i.e. the Food pyramid, and now MyPlate).
OK so what’s the latest?
A new set dietary guidelines was published in 2015 and in a nutshell, here’s what they said:
- What Americans eat: No surprises here. We eat too much saturated fat, sodium and calories. We also eat too little fiber, vitamins (A, D, E, C) and minerals (folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium).
- What Americans should eat:
- MORE vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes and nuts
- SOME low- and non-fat dairy products
- LESS red and processed meat
- EVEN LESS sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains
Any ideas on how to do this?
Yes. The DGA also nicely outlined three different “dietary patterns” that would help achieve these suggestions. *Note, these are not diets, cleanses or superfoods. We’re talking lifelong ‘patterns’ of
eating. The reason Mediterranean and Vegetarian patterns are included is due to research showing
people who follow these patterns of eating have lower body weight, longer lives, and overall better health.
Healthy American - This is what we would eat in a perfect world. Nice appropriate portion sizes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and dairy.
Mediterranean - Also emphasizes the five food groups, but favors beans, legumes, nuts and seafood over poultry, red meat and dairy. Big fans of “healthy fats” like olive oil, avocado and nuts.
Healthy Vegetarian - Takes out meat, poultry and seafood altogether and replaces it with soy, legumes, nuts and seeds. Again, emphasizes five food groups.
Check out this chart, which shows how these three eating patterns are almost exactly the same.
- Maximize on nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and dairy.
- Highly limit your discretionary calories to less than 200 a day, if that.
So next time see an ad or article for the latest diet trend, take a deep breath and come back to the research.. In the end, it’s very simple-- eat from the five food groups every day, and keep an eye on portions!