The Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services update the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years, and the latest guidelines were recently released. Updated dietary guidance has been provided to Americans for over 100 years, and this information is easily accessible to us through online materials at dietaryguidelines.gov. Strong evidence links the food we eat with our health, but the Healthy Eating Index score for Americans, which assesses how well dietary recommendations are followed, is low. The Healthy Eating Index score is often higher in early life and older adulthood, but scores fall short in every age group. Currently in the United States, 60 percent of adults have one or more diet-related chronic diseases, about 74 percent of adults are overweight or obese, and about 40 percent of children and teens are overweight or obese. Additionally in the United States, 75 percent of people have dietary patterns low in vegetables, fruits, and dairy; 63 percent exceed the limit for added sugars; 77 percent exceed the limit for saturated fat; and 90 percent exceed the Chronic Disease Risk Reduction limits for sodium. While these numbers may feel overwhelming, it’s never too late to change and improve food and beverage choices. In fact, the dietary guidelines have a new theme and it’s “Make Every Bite Count.” This means nutrient-dense foods and beverages should take up most of a person’s daily calorie limit. Nutrient-dense foods and beverages provide vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components and have little to no added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.
Figuring out which foods are nutrient-dense often is not difficult. Whole fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense, which make these foods an easy choice to include in snacks and meals. When a food is packaged, check out the nutrition label. It only takes a few seconds once you know where to look. Get used to reading a nutrition label by pulling a package from your kitchen and looking it over. If you have kids, get them involved. For example, do a word-find activity to locate items like “sodium” and “added sugar.” Nutrition labels include information about components the dietary guidelines recommend limiting like sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars. While it might take a few extra moments in the grocery aisle to look over a nutrition label, this information allows people to make an informed decision about what foods and beverages they decide to consume.
Fortunately, the new guidelines are easy to use and break down recommendations for each stage of life, tailoring dietary information from birth through older adulthood. This is helpful when trying to follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage. The new guidelines also offer examples of nutrient-dense meals and a customizable framework in which you choose nutrient-dense foods you like to eat. This framework considers both foods related to cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations.
Since it can be difficult to memorize all the details, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans offer these three points to remember: try to eat nutrient-dense foods, eat a variety of foods from each food group, and pay attention to portion size. If you would like to explore the new dietary guidelines further or want to check out the recommendations for your specific stage in life, visit dietaryguidelines.gov.
Sara Meeks is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Program Assistant and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
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