Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.
Do you ever wonder how you could tweak your family's diet to make it even more wholesome and healthful?
Enter the recently updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans. By law, every five years, the US Departments of Agriculture, and Health and Human Services convene a committee of "scientific experts" to review the latest nutrition research and revise our national guide for eating well. Their ultimate purpose: improve the health of all Americans, ages 2 and older. (1)
The Dietary Guidelines Committee concluded, "Poor diet and physical inactivity are the most important factors contributing to an epidemic of overweight and obesity...and the major causes of morbidity and mortality affecting...all segments of our society."
So our newest dietary recommendations specifically focus on ways to balance calories to "attain and maintain a healthy weight," and improve diet quality -- specifically by choosing more "nutrient-dense" foods and beverages. In other words, eat less, move more, and get the biggest nutritional bang for our calories.
Predictably, we're advised to eat more fruits, vegetables, lowfat dairy, and whole grains, while consuming less sugar, sodium, refined grains and solid/ saturated fats.
New and especially noteworthy is the recommendation to consume at least two, 4-ounce servings of seafood per week -- enough to provide an average daily intake of 250 milligrams of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA to reduce the risk of heart disease and sudden death from heart attack and stroke. Specific advice to consume at least 8 and up to 12 ounces of a variety of seafood per week is particularly important for pregnant and lactating women "to improve infant health outcomes, such as visual acuity and cognitive development."
In all cases, our goal is to consume fish that are ecologically sustainable, and low in environmental toxins such as mercury and persistent organic pollutants, including PCBs.
Also of notable significance is the recognition that the cholesterol from "one egg per day is not harmful... in healthy individuals..." Eggs are also given rightful praise for their high quality protein and micronutrients. Hallelujah!
"Nutrients of concern" in American diets include too little potassium, fiber, calcium, and vitamin D. We can boost our intake by eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and organic milk products. (1)
Due to their mercury content, pregnant and lactating women and children are particularly advised to avoid tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. Limit white albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week. (1)
Partially-hydrogenated oils are the main source of health-damaging "synthetic" or "industrial" trans fats. (1)
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends that full-calorie soft drinks be removed from schools. Does your children's school comply? (1)
Grain-based desserts are the top source of calories for Americans age two years and older. These include cake, cookies, pie, cobbler, sweet rolls, pastries and donuts. (1)
Let's face it, some people simply don't like fish. That's when fish oil supplements and fortified dairy come in handy. Look for Omega-3 milk that contains both EPA and DHA to get the full benefit. You'll be delightfully surprised by its fresh, clean, creamy taste.