Making Sense of USDA Dietary Guidelines

Photo Credit: Garitzko Public Domain
The dietary guidelines for Americans, as recommended by the USDA includes some important recommendations to eat more of some foods and to reduce consumption of salt, fat and sugars. The guidelines are not strict rules for eating, but recommendations about how to improve your health by making wise food choices. Because so many Americans do not eat a variety of foods, nutritional deficits in fiber, calcium, vitamin D and potassium are too low and a public health concern. Many Americans are over-weight, especially children. A balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean meats and fish, fiber from whole grains, beans and rice can help combat obesity and disease. The goal of dietary guidelines is to help Americans make wise food choices for improved health. 
The USDA recommends that Americans eat more plants. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain essential nutrients for a healthy body. Vegetables and fruits may help reduce the risk of chronic disease like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even some cancers. Vegetables and fruits contain important trace elements, such as magnesium, potassium, fiber, folates and vitamins. It is recommended that an adult eat at least 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and fruits every day. One way to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet is to trade chips and cookies for fresh fruits and vegetables. Snack on apples, pears and strawberries instead of popcorn or chips. Vegetable and fruit juices are another way to increase your daily intake. Make sure to read the label and buy only juices that are 100% fruit and vegetable juices without added sugar or salt. 
The USDA recommends that Americans cut back on refined grains like white bread, sugar, salt and solid fats. Processed foods are convenient, but they may not meet all your nutritional needs. The calorie-to-nutrient ratio in most processed foods is not balanced, meaning that the foods are high in calories with low nutritional value. Excess salt can contribute to high blood pressure, especially for a person who has a potassium deficiency. Processed foods, canned foods and ready-to-eat heat and serve meals often contain excess salt and added sugars. The USDA recommends limiting sodium to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day. Older people and those at risk for high blood pressure and diabetes should limit salt to about 1,500 milligrams per day. 

According to the USDA, solid fats and sugars account for as much as 35% of the average person’s daily caloric intake. One of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of solid fats and sugar in your diet is to avoid refined grain foods and to use vegetables oil and olive oil in place of fats like butter. Cutting back on fats, trans fats and sugars can also help reduce cholesterol levels. 
For more information and explanation of dietary guidelines, see:
United States Department of Agriculture, 2010 Dietary Guidelines

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