New Dietary Guidelines Deciphered

Better later than never. The federal government finally released its “2010 update” of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans in late January 2011. The update incorporates advice based on the latest nutrition research, a lot of which has emerged since the previous guidelines were released in 2005.

Here’s what the new Guidelines say that a healthy diet should look like, and what the guidance means.

Guidelines: “Shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds.”

Translation: Check out vegetarian recipes and entrees on menus, even if you’re not a vegetarian. They can help increase intake of valuable nutrients, including fiber and antioxidants.

Guidelines: “Increase the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, and consume only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs.”

Translation: You don’t have to cut milk or steak from a healthy diet. Choose low fat versions of dairy. Kids need 3 servings of lower fat milk, cheese and yogurt. There are 29 different cuts of beef that qualify as lean, with less than 10 grams of fat per serving. (See

Get Off the SoFAS

Remember all the talk about “couch potatoes,” referring to sedentary habits that contribute to weight gain? Couches have been joined by SoFAS (solid fats and added sugars).

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines report warns that SoFAS contribute about 35 percent of calories to the American diet for kids, teens and adults.

“Solid fats” refer to the fat in butter, stick margarine, vegetable shortening (oils which are hydrogenated to be solid at room temperature) and the fats in meats.

“Added sugars” don’t need much explanation, and you can start with soft drinks. And because more than one-third of children and more than two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese, the Guidelines place stronger emphasis on reducing calorie consumption and increasing physical activity.

Guidelines: “Significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats because these dietary components contribute excess calories and few, if any, nutrients.”

Translation: Don’t waste calories on sugar-sweetened beverages and deep fried foods. If you do, spend those calories wisely with smaller portions enjoyed less frequently.

Guidelines: “Reduce sodium intake.”

Translation: Go easy on processed foods. Shaking a salt habit doesn’t have to mean suffering with bland foods. Add flavor with herbs, spices, vinegars, salsas, onion, garlic and mushrooms. Cooking techniques such as grilling, roasting and pan searing caramelize the natural sugars and proteins in foods to add flavor.

Guidelines: “Lower intake of refined grains, especially refined grains that are coupled with added sugar, solid fat, and sodium.”

Translation: Go easy on the donuts and tortilla chips. Just because it is brown or states that it is high in fiber does not necessarily mean it is whole grain. You must read the label carefully to correctly identify foods that qualify as whole grain. The ingredient statement will list whole grains by the specific grain, such as whole-wheat flour, whole oats or whole-grain corn. In many whole-grain foods, a whole grain is among the first ingredients listed. For help choosing healthy whole grains, see

Althea Zanecosky is a Philadelphia registered dietitian and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Broad Bottom Line

The new U.S. Dietary Guidelines conclude that, “On average, Americans of all ages consume too few vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains, low-fat milk and milk products, and seafood, and they eat too much added sugars, solid fats, refined grains and sodium.”

This means we should spend more time shopping the store perimeter where the fresh, nutrient-rich foods generally are located. We should spend less time in the prepared food section eyeing foods such as fried chicken.


Categories: Food & Nutrition, Health & Nutrition