Category Archives: Sodium

2010 Dietary Guidelines: A Draft Report & Your Chance to Comment

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.

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CSPI Releases its Extreme Eating Awards for 2010 Restaurant Food

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.

All About Sodium

Although the amount of sodium in foods – especially processed foods, which contain most sodium in the food supply – and its links to heart disease and stroke risk has been under scrutiny lately, this has been a week of red carpet attention for the substance.

In 2008, Congress commissioned the The Institute of Medicine (IOM) to recommend ways to get the sodium intakes in the U.S. down 30%  to levels recommended by the 2005 Dietary Guidelines (2,300mg/day vs. the 3,400mg/day consumed on average). Yesterday, the IOM released a report that concluded reducing sodium content in food is extremely important and requires new government standards by the FDA (in concert with other agencies) for the accept­able/safe level of sodium intakes, with the cooperation of food manufacturers and restaurants. IOM noted that population-wide decreases in sodium intake could prevent 100,000 deaths a year in the U.S.

They noted that current levels of sodium in the food supply are “too high to be safe.” They recommend a gradual reduction of sodium in the food supply, so that the change is less noticed by most folks and allows their taste sensations to adjust slowly.

Some speculate that the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, due at the end of the year, may call for even lower sodium intakes. Since sodium is everywhere, especially in processed and restaurant foods, IOM has a great point that cutting sodium population-wide will really require a change in Americans’ eating habits and palates.

Knowledge: Not Enough For a Healthy Weight

We came across an interesting post by John Barban on his blog. While he’s not a registered dietitian (RD), he does bring up an interesting concept that, in our experience, many dietitians seem to agree with: For most people, simply knowing how to eat well or “right” isn’t enough to get them to a healthy weight and good eating habits. He makes an overall correct observation that, in North America, we’re heavier than ever, yet we also know more about nutrition than we ever have.

This gets to the core of our public health training, which emphasizes that knowledge isn’t enough for behavior change. People need to be both ready and internally motivated to undertake any behavior, whether it’s losing/maintaining weight, quitting smoking, or something else.

It will be interesting to see how large-scale public health initiatives that aim to change the food environment affect people’s health, such as the First Lady’s sweeping Let’s Move campaign (we mentioned last week) and the NYC call to reduce sodium in restaurant and packaged foods by 25% in 5 years.