USDA Releases Updated Guidelines

February 01, 2011

What does this week’s release of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans mean for you? What new ideas and foods do you need to keep in mind?

Let's start off with a little history; the first edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans was released in 1980; and although yesterday’s announcement and press conference was broadcasted live over the internet, not much has changed when it comes to just how to empower Americans to make the important behavior and consumption changes this latest report offers. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Departments of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius did the honors.

The theme throughout the broadcast was Vilsack’s “Calories in – calories out.” And while all the science supported the premise, clearly the shortfall of this year’s guidelines has to do with how to communicate effectively.

There were few surprises in the revised guidelines, but one that surprised many is: To drink water instead of sugary drinks. It seems that the government is focusing on tackling the obesity crisis head on as the talk started off with the staggering statistic that two thirds of Americans are overweight and 75 cents of every health care dollar is spent on obesity related chronic disease.

The two main focuses of the 2010 Guidelines are maintaining calorie balance over time to achieve and sustain a healthy weight, and focusing on consuming nutrient dense foods and beverages. In fact, two new chapters were included in the Guidelines: “The Total Diet” which considers various health-promoting dietary patterns and “Translating and Integrating the Evidence” which addresses the broader environmental and social change needed to support healthy eating.

The USDA added that a ‘next generation’ food pyramid will be released in the coming months.

It was widely anticipated that the general recommendation of 2,300 mg for sodium intake would be reduced, which it was not. However, for those aged 51 and older, African Americans, and those who have hypertension, type-2 diabetes or chronic kidney disease (which currently makes up about half the general population of adults), the new recommendation is a maximum daily intake of 1,500mg. The average daily intake among US adults is about 3,400mg.

What are some of the new additions to the 2010 guidelines?
Stronger language appears for recommendations to increase consumption of plant foods (vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains and nuts and seeds). Seafood consumption of 8 oz (two servings) per week is encouraged.

Eating behaviors were addressed (e.g., breakfast, snacking, fast food) and the association of screen time with increased body weight was assessed.

The guidelines say to significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats because these dietary components contribute excess calories and few, if any, nutrients and lower intake of refined grains that are coupled with added sugar, solid fat, and sodium.

Some ways in which you can reduce your sodium intake as recommended by the new updated guidelines:
Read the Nutrition Facts label for information on the sodium content of foods and purchase foods that are low in sodium. 
Consume more fresh foods and fewer processed foods that are high in sodium. 
Eat more home-prepared foods, where you have more control over sodium, and use little or no salt or salt-containing seasonings when cooking or eating foods. 
When eating at restaurants, ask that salt not be added to your food or order lower sodium options, if available.

2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans