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March 2011

Changing Nutritional Guidelines Leave Many Consumers Unsure of What’s Healthy to Eat—and What’s Not

The federal government once again released new dietary guidelines, advising Americans what they should and shouldn’t eat. These updated recommendations reflect the latest scientific evidence on healthy eating and the effects of eating too much sodium and fat, as well as the benefits of eating more fruits, vegetables, and low- and non-fat dairy products.

What recommendation would you add to the newest dietary guidelines? What radical change do you think needs to take place to change Americans’ eating habits? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below or join the conversation on the American Council on Exercise page on Facebook.

Specifically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is urging Americans to choose more nutrient-dense foods and to significantly cut the amount of sodium in their diets, especially if certain factors put them at greater health risk. This includes individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, of African-American descent, or anyone over the age of 51. These individuals are advised to limit their daily sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg (a typical adult consumes more than double that amount each day). And while much of the sodium we consume comes from the salt shaker, even more is hidden in the places you might least expect—store-bought and packaged foods like bread, restaurant items, and even desserts.

saltThe solution? Read food labels more closely and gradually reduce the amount of salt in your foods so that your taste buds will adapt to a healthier level of sodium content. Of course, making better food choices—in particular, consuming more fruits and vegetables—will naturally reduce the amount of sodium in one’s diet. The guidelines also urge people to eat smaller portions, choose whole grains instead of refined, eat lean proteins like seafood and legumes, drink more water and to switch to low- or fat-free dairy products.

But are these new guidelines enough to radically change the poor eating habits that have led to skyrocketing levels of obesity in America? Probably not, even though they emphasize the heavy toll of diet-related chronic conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Other than a greater focus on reducing sodium consumption, however, the latest guidelines offer little advice that is either new or groundbreaking. In its entirety, the nearly 100-page report includes a considerable amount of commonsense and practical advice for following a healthy diet, but most individuals are unlikely to ever read it. Unfortunately, without specifics, Americans are left to decide for themselves what is or is not healthy and, as is often the case, convenience will continue to trump good nutrition.


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