By Carol Witte, RDN, Program Director of Nutrition Services and Senior Centers
Since 1980, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have been published and updated every five years. This report is prepared and published by the U.S. Department of Human Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). The goal is to provide healthy and nutritionally adequate guidelines which promote health and prevent chronic disease for current and future generations.
Over the past century, deficiencies of essential nutrients have decreased. However, due to poor diet quality and low physical activity, chronic diseases have increased. The focus of the guidelines is to provide healthy eating patterns for all ages and help prevent diet-related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. These dietary guidelines are used by businesses, schools, community groups, media, the food industry and state and local governments to develop programs, policies and communication for the general public. The five main guidelines which are used to encourage healthy eating and lifestyles are listed below:
- Follow a healthy eating pattern across the life span.
- Focus on variety, nutrient density and amount.
- Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake.
- Shift to healthier food and beverage choices.
- Support healthy eating patterns for all (home, school, work and communities).
So what is a healthy eating pattern and what are nutrient dense food items?
A healthy eating pattern is the process of consuming food and beverages at an appropriate calorie level to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, as well as to support nutritional needs which would reduce the risk of chronic disease. The foods included in your diet should be nutrient dense, which means they provide a good source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. All vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, lean meat/poultry, eggs, beans, unsalted nuts, low fat or fat free dairy products are included in this list as long as they are prepared in a method that limits added fat (especially saturated fat), sodium and simple sugars. Variety is still the key! Nutritional needs should be met primarily by the food you eat.
The main healthy eating limits include:
- Limiting added sugars – less than 10% of total calories per day
- Limiting saturated fats – less than 10% of total calories per day
- Decreasing sodium intake which is less than 2300mg per day. This includes foods which have sodium sources as well as table salt (1 tsp. salt = 2400mg sodium)
- Limiting consumption of alcoholic beverages
Physical activity is one of the most important parts of health promotion. The relationship between a healthy diet and physical activity definitely helps contribute to a calorie balance, which is needed to manage your body weight. The guidelines provide a comprehensive set of recommendations for the amount and type of physical activity needed each day. The recommendation for adults is to do at least two hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity (brisk walking, dancing, swimming, biking), as well as one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity (one which greatly increases a person’s heart rate and breathing). Muscle strengthening activities should also be done two or more days a week. Older adults are encouraged to be as physically active as their health condition allows and are encouraged to do exercises that maintain or improve balance. Safety is the key