I know it’s easy to be cynical about governmental guidelines, so I don’t want to jump the gun here, but it seems as if we are on the brink of a positive shift in the way government assesses diet, food quality, availability, and education. On Tuesday morning, the latest federal report for how Americans should eat was issued. A 13-member board of scientists and nutritionists were appointed by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to revise the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans (where’s Michael Pollan when you need him). The guidelines are reassessed every five years and are meant to provide advice on how good dietary habits can promote health and reduce the risk for major chronic diseases.
The guidelines are used to establish nutritional information labels on almost all packaged foods. They are the information on which the food pyramid is built. They form the basic guidelines of nutritionists and dietitians. More importantly, they affect what’s served in public schools and have the potential to affect the availability of high quality fruits and vegetables in lower economic areas.
The guidelines won’t be officially issued until the fall, after the agriculture department has reviewed the advisory committee’s report and listened to public comments. To submit comments go to www.dietaryguidelines.gov
Among the suggestions (from Part A: The Executive Summary):
- Shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
- Significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats because these dietary components contribute excess calories and few, if any, nutrients.
- Reduce sodium intake and lower intake of refined grains, especially refined grains that are coupled with added sugar, solid fat, and sodium.
- Improve nutrition literacy and cooking skills, including safe food handling skills, and empower and motivate the population, especially families with children, to prepare and consume healthy foods at home.
- Increase comprehensive health, nutrition, and physical education programs and curricula in US schools and preschools, including food preparation, food safety, cooking, and physical education classes and improved quality of recess.
- For all Americans, especially those with low income, create greater financial incentives to purchase, prepare, and consume vegetables and fruit, whole grains, seafood, fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats, and other healthy foods.
- Improve the availability of affordable fresh produce through greater access to grocery stores, produce trucks, and farmers’ markets.
- Increase environmentally sustainable production of vegetables, fruits, and fiber-rich whole grains.
- Encourage restaurants and the food industry to offer health-promoting foods that are low in sodium; limited in added sugars, refined grains, and solid fats; and served in smaller portions.