Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee draft report. Everyone in the U.S. (including YOU!) has an opportunity to comment on the report until July 15. This report will be used to develop the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, which will reign as the overarching U.S. gov’t’s nutrition recommendations until 2015.
The report is long and contains a lot of details. Some of the notable conclusions/recommendations include:
- Audience: Previous versions have focused recommendations on a healthy population. Not this time. Since the majority of Americans are overweight or obese, these recommendations have been tailored to folks who need to drop some pounds. Of course, the recommendation is to do so smartly, by decreasing/managing calorie intake and moving more.
- Sodium: Dropping daily intakes down to 1,500 mg/day (from the last version’s recommended 2,300mg). This is pretty drastic, but with the help of the recently-released IOM report on sodium, there will likely be gradual decreases in sodium content in the overall food environment of foods over time. The majority of sodium in the diet is in processed foods and restaurant foods. Essentially, the U.S. palate will need to change so people don’t go running for the salt shaker to make these sodium-reduced foods “taste right.”
- Plant-Based and Whole Foods-Based: The report recommends eating a plant-based diet that includes low-fat and fat-free dairy but is limited to moderate amounts of meat, poultry and eggs. It also puts an emphasis on eating whole foods that are dense in nutrients and that are minimally processed.
- Reducing Added Sugars, Solid Fat, Refined Grains and Sodium: In addition to the sodium note above (a big change for the population!), there is a large push to limit added sugars, solid (saturated/trans) fats and grains that are highly refined plus low in nutrients and/or high in added sugar. Limiting these components is more of a focus than discretionary calories (extra calories left over you could have fun with if you got what you needed first), which were an emphasis in the last iteration.
- Focus on Breakfast: The importance of breaking the fast is a sub-focus of the report, as the authors note the important links between eating breakfast and getting more nutrients and the lower risk for obesity, especially in kids.
- Fats: Saturated fat recommendations have been dropped to 7% of total calories from 10% in the last iteration of the report. Further, they’ve singled out “cholesterol-lowering fatty acids,” which include both saturated and artificially-created trans fats, and give the target of a 5-7% of calories total.
- Sustainability: The report emphasizes this topic for the first time, underscoring the importance of a sustainable food supply.
- Nutrients of Concern: The nutrients that people aren’t getting enough of that the report focuses on are vitamin D, calcium, potassium and fiber. It emphasizes ways to get more of these nutrients.
An extra tidbit: The guidelines are considered to be released jointly by USDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). This round, USDA has taken the lead on development. Next round, DHHS will.
The nutrition watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released its Extreme Eating Awards for 2010. These awards go to restaurant dishes that are frightenengly laden with calories, saturated fat and sodium (salt).
Among the winners are dishes from Outback Steakhouse, Five Guys Burgers, Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang’s and California Pizza Kitchen.
There’s not doubt that if people are eating these types of entrees on a regular basis as a “normal” lunch or dinner, this is a pretty briskly-flying red flag (and not just the ones that made this cut – there are plenty of options high in calories, fat and sodium out there). However, if you’ve planned all week/month for a fun occasional celebratory meal, you’re not a bad person. We all do have our cravings from time to time! Moderation and how often we eat these kinds of meals is the key to maintaining a healthy balance in life.
According to CalorieLab, research at Scripp’s Research Institute in Florida found that with rats, high-fat and high-calorie foods affect the brain’s pleasure centers much like cocaine does and are similarly addictive. They also noted that, over time, it took more and more of this type of food to get that once-easy high. Rats wouldn’t even stop when shocks were given while they ate these foods.
There’s no doubt that high-fat and high-calorie foods can be hard to pass up. Again, moderation and knowing ourselves and our triggers is our best defense.
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, had an interesting blog post this morning about the health halo of grass-fed beef.
Grass-fed beef has long been praised for its greater omega-3 fat content when compared to conventionally raised beef. She notes that, while it’s true that grass-fed beef has 125% more omega-3 fats than conventionally raised beef, the level of omega-3s is still only 7% of the recommended amount that we get each day (while there isn’t a Daily Value for omega-3s, many recommend we get 1.2g or 1,200mg each day).
Why does this matter? It’s a great example of a food with a health halo and how inaccurate perceptions of a food’s health benefits can lead us to put it on a pedestal. It’s perfectly fine to opt for grass-fed beef (or other foods) due to ethics/environmental impact preferences. However, as with any food, it’s important to get an accurate picture of its health impacts.
Sadly, there isn’t any perfect or cure-all food (there would be magic pills by now if that were the case!). Instead, it’s more about eating a well-balanced and well-rounded eating pattern with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy and enjoying delicious foods in moderation. And having fun! And making it realistic and tweaking it to fit your personal lifestyle and beliefs.
The Consumer Reports Blog had a cool post on peanut butter and trans fat. As the post noted, today peanut butter doesn’t have much trans fat. While there is a little bit (it helps keep fats from separating during storage), the levels are so low that they’re barely detectable.
Trans fat is a concern because it’s an especially “bad” kind of fat – it can lower HDL (“good” or “Happy”) cholesterol and increase LDL (“bad” or “Lousy”) cholesterol.
Peanut butter is mostly made up of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, or “good” fats. Many organizations recommend we get most of our fats from these sources, which can help improve our blood cholesterol profiles.
The bottom line: You don’t need to avoid peanut butter, since it hardly has any trans fat. Double check the nutrition label on the peanut butter you buy to make sure trans fats are 0g and you’ll be set.
As you may have seen or read in the news, research published in online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no links between saturated fat intake and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart and blood vessels that includes coronary heart disease).
The research used was a meta-analysis of 21 studies from across the world – that is, data from all of these studies was pooled together and analyzed as one set of data to draw conclusions.
It is important to note that the research examined was epidemiological, meaning it made associations between dietary patterns and lifestyle outcomes, and can’t be used to draw cause and effect conclusions. And it’s also one study – it’s important to take caution when interpreting it among the widespread agreement that consuming saturated fats is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
That being said, these findings certainly are interesting – we’ll be curious to find out what upcoming research finds about this sat fat-heart health link. Especially as trans and saturated fats are considered top contributors to cardiovascular disease risk.