2011-06-18 / Columnists

Maintaining Your Health on Mackinac

2011 Food Guidelines: Return To A Wholesome Diet
By Yvan Silva, M.D.

January 31, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services issued a new science-based set of dietary guidelines. The previous guidelines of 2005 urged Americans to eat more whole grains and less sugar, prompting changes in the ingredients used in many commercial food products. The emphasis was also to curb solid fats and salt. There was no directive on avoiding specific foods and no advice on quantities of food and meal portions.

The new guidelines go much further to favor improvements in the health and well being of consumers over the well-known strong lobbying of farm interests and food manufacturers. The new guidelines should benefit public education, especially because they’re simple. The 112-page report highlights the central theme that we should enjoy our food, but eat less. And, for the first time, the issue of eating less is front and center. The guidelines are understandable, attainable, can be followed more easily, and for the most part, are affordable.

This signifies an important step in public health education and could well make a difference in the epidemic of obesity and the increasing incidence of chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and others. Lifestyle changes to a program espoused by these guidelines bring back the best of all approaches to a healthy diet – moderation rather than the back and forth of deprivation and denial that defeat the quest for weight loss with the predictable regain and then some. Adaptation should be gradual to a wholesome diet that should be enjoyed.

The overall focus of the guidelines is to maintain calorie balance in healthy proportions over a period of time, to achieve a healthy weight and sustain it while consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages.

While the guidelines are directed at consumers and federal nutrition programs, they will surely influence the food industry to reformulate processed foods, especially to reduce sodium, which was emphasized. Americans consume an average of 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day. Half the population, it is advised, should consume 1,500 milligrams or less per day, including children, African-Americans, people age 50 and older, or those with obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease. Everyone else should limit their intake of salt to 2,300 milligrams per day. It is well known that salt is not easy to replace and that substitutes have not gained in popularity.

Putting these guidelines into practice requires some preparation. Perhaps keeping a diet diary for one week of what you consume should provide practical information and a basis for what and how to change. Pay attention to what you eat. Eat slowly. Eat until you’re satisfied, not until you’re full. Smaller portions mean not going back for seconds.

Some suggestions: Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits. Lean meats, poultry, and sometimes seafood provide proteins. Among dairy products, choose non-fat or low-fat milk and other items. Choose carefully the amounts of sodium; use less salt and salty ingredients in food preparation. Vegetable oils like olive and canola are preferred to solid fats like butter and margarine. Eat fiber-rich foods – replaced refined grains and grain-based foods with whole grains. Eat out less, and when you do, check out the components of your meal, the calories, and the sodium content. Keep hydrated with plenty of water, calorie-free drinks like coffee, tea, and other low sodium beverages. Pure fruit juices are more desirable than sodas, fruit drinks, and energy drinks. Exercise optimally, and eat less overall.

Do not succumb to advertising. Not all health-related claims are what they seem. Scrutinize nutrition facts on labels, especially serving size, calories per serving, and also the amounts of sugars, saturated and trans-fats and sodium per serving. A very good way to monitor your progress is to monitor weight. Bring it to your optimal weight, and allow for a plus two, minus two pounds fluctuation by watching what and how much you eat.

Public health education in the area of nutrition is gaining rapid strides. It is now up to consumers to work with guidelines to stop runaway obesity and chronic diseases.

The significance of these programs influences school lunches and other federal nutrition programs. The well-known “food pyramid,” in use since 1992, when it was first published, has now been relegated to history. Confusing and deeply flawed, it did not distinguish between healthy foods like whole grains, fish, and others from less healthy choices like white bread and bacon, for example. The pyramid has been replaced by a “plate-like symbol,” which is simple and practical to use.

Dr. Silva is a professor of surgery at Wayne State University and a resident of Woodbluff on Mackinac Island.

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