The newly updated set of Dietary Guidelines recently released by the USDA addresses the health-related state of our society: we are too heavy and too sedentary. Including 23 key recommendations, the Dietary Guidelines are intended to help Americans choose an overall healthy diet. Aside from healthy diet advice, the updated Guidelines focus on weight and physical activity.
While there aren’t any real surprises in the updated recommendations, here are a couple of points worth noting.
First, more than one-third of children and two-thirds of adults in the US are overweight or obese. Said another way, those with a healthy weight are outnumbered by those who carry around extra pounds. The updated Dietary Guidelines place a stronger emphasis on reducing calorie consumption and increasing physical activity. Government officials say most Americans need to lose weight, and that improved eating habits are good not just for individuals and families, but also for the country. If you’re wondering what you can do for your country, one way to help is to keep yourself healthy.
Second, the biggest factors contributing to the obesity epidemic are poor diet and physical inactivity. But even for those who are not overweight, eating poorly and moving too little can negatively affect health. There are many reasons aside from weight loss to eat better and exercise more. Even if your weight happens to fall in the “healthy range” there are no “free passes” or exemptions from exercising regularly and eating well.
The Dietary Guidelines emphasize two main points. First, maintain calorie balance over time to achieve and sustain a healthy weight. This includes a recommendation to enjoy your food, but eat less and avoid oversized portions. The “over time” phrase is used because paying attention to our eating and exercise habits is not something we can finish and be done with, like finishing a crossword puzzle or a good book. It requires continued attention over a lifetime.
The second main point is to focus on consuming nutrient-rich foods and beverages. It should come as no surprise that Americans consume too much sodium and too many calories from solid fats, added sugars, and refined grains. Nutrition experts are using a new acronym, SoFAS, which stands for Solid Fats and Added Sugars. SoFAS are in many of the products we should eat less of, like cakes and cookies, soda, and pizza. Choosing more nutrient-rich foods, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, will help cut the SoFAS in your diet.
You can improve your health by getting off the SoFAS—both those described by the new acronym and the sofas we love to sit on—and by incorporating the new dietary recommendations into your lifestyle.
The updated Dietary Guidelines offer six broad recommendations. By choosing a few to work on now, you’ll be on your way to healthier habits.
- Enjoy your food, but eat less.
- Avoid oversized portions.
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
- Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers.
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks.