Understanding the New Dietary Guidelines
The dietary guidelines for Americans are released by the US Department of Agriculture to help Americans choose healthful eating and physical activity patterns. The guidelines are intended for healthy individuals 2 years and older. You may have been familiar with the older versions of the food pyramid guide, which has now taken the shape of a plate in order to help people understand how to make better food choices.
There are five main food groups: grains, vegetable, fruit, dairy, and protein. The new food plate has four sections, designated for grains, vegetables, fruit, and protein. The side order is meant for dairy. The sections of the plate indicate the proportions of each group your diet should consist of. Half your plate should be vegetables and fruit, and you should eat more vegetables than fruit. Likewise, the other half of your plate should contain grains and protein, and you should eat more grains than protein. The divisions in the plate are also meant to discourage large portion sizes.
The Different Food Groups
What is the difference between whole grains and refined grains and why are whole grains so much better for you?
Grain products are foods such as pasta, breakfast cereal, oatmeal, bread, tortillas, and grits. Unlike whole grains, refined grains have undergone the process of milling in order to make a finer texture and increase the shelf life. This means that the bran and germ have been removed, as well as dietary fiber, iron, and B vitamins. Most refined grain products are enriched, meaning that some of the lost nutrients have been added back. This includes certain B vitamins—thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid—as well as iron. Keep in mind that the missing fiber is not added back to the product.
Protein is essential for repairing and building tissues in the muscle. The protein group consists of foods such as beef, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, and tofu. It is important to choose beef and poultry options that are lean or low in fat.
The dairy group is anything containing milk. In addition to milk itself, this includes yogurt, cheese, butter, and milk-based desserts. When eating dairy products, it is important that they are non-fat or low-fat most of the time.
Vegetables have 5 subgroups: dark green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other vegetables. The subgroups are divided according to their nutrient content. The dark green category includes broccoli, spinach, bok choy, and lettuce; red and orange vegetables include carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, orange squash, butternut squash, and tomatoes; starchy vegetables include corn, potatoes, green peas, plantains, and cassava; beans and peas include black, white, kidney, garbanzo, pinto, and soy beans, as well as black-eyed peas, split peas, and lentils; other vegetables include artichokes, asparagus, avocados, beets, mushrooms, okra, and many more.
If you are familiar with the older versions of the food pyramid, you may be surprised to find that oils (and fats and sweets), which were depicted on the older food pyramids, are no longer considered a food group; however, oils contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are part of a healthy diet. Polyunsaturated fats contain essential fatty acids that your body cannot produce on its own and therefore must be consumed through your diet.
There are several key points that this food guide emphasizes:
Balance calories—this means eat less and avoid oversized portions.
Foods to increase—consume more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies should be half your plate! Not only are fruits and vegetables full of vitamins and minerals, they also help you maintain a healthy weight by consuming fewer calories.
Eat more whole grains—half your grains should be whole grains. That means replace refined grains, such as white bread and white rice with oatmeal, whole-wheat flour, and brown rice, which are made from whole grains instead. Drink low-fat or fat-free milk.
Foods to reduce—consume fewer products high in sodium. Check the labels on packaged foods, such as soup, bread, and frozen entrees, and choose the one with the least sodium. Try to avoid processed foods because they are generally very high in sodium. Drink more water and avoid sugary sodas and juices.
What’s the deal with fats?
Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature and can be found in plants and fish. They are high in unsaturated fats and low in saturated fats. The only plant oils that do have high amounts of saturated fats are tropical oils, such as coconut and palm oil. Oils also do not contain any cholesterol.
Fats that are solid at room temperature are derived from animal sources and contain higher amounts of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
The hydrogenation of vegetable oils can produce solid fats from oils, which create trans fats. These are found in items such as stick margarine, commercially prepared bakery items, and processed peanut butter. Trans fats are important to avoid because of the harmful effect they have on cholesterol levels. They raise cholesterol and increase the risk for heart disease even more than saturated fats.
What exactly is the connection between fats and cholesterol?
Though cholesterol is necessary for survival, your liver is able to produce all the cholesterol you need. The consumption of high levels of cholesterol from animal products or whole-fat dairy can increase the risk for heart disease. You have probably heard of the two different types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. LDL is the “bad” cholesterol, while HDL is the “good” cholesterol. Saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol are known to raise LDL levels. It is also important to note that cholesterol is raised more by the consumption of saturated fat than the consumption of cholesterol itself.
Polyunsaturated fats lower both LDL and HDL levels, but you do not want to lower your HDL levels. Monounsaturated fats, on the other hand, maintain HDL levels so you should eat a variety of both mono and polyunsaturated fats.