Same ol’, same ol’: Eat less and exercise more. This health-conscious mantra holds steady in the latest version of the food guidelines published jointly by the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). But the guidelines, released in January, do emphasize nine key recommendations that sing slightly different tunes about eating even more fruits and vegetables, limiting sugars and trans fats, and keeping a discerning eye on salt and alcohol consumption. They also offer 12 new diet plans for Americans of all shapes, sizes, and lifestyles. Despite the fresh polish, we wondered if the revised guidelines go far enough in helping Americans get healthy. To find out, we tapped the expertise of three natural health professionals.
Debra Boutin, MS, RD, clinic nutrition coordinator at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle
WHAT SHE LIKES
- More fruits and vegetables. The new guidelines recommend Americans get nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day versus the five servings previously recommended.
- Fewer trans fats. The new guidelines discourage trans fats. Formed by the hydrogenation process, a technique used to extend the shelf life of processed foods, trans fats raise bad cholesterol levels and thereby increase heart disease risk.
WHAT SHE DISLIKES
- Calcium sources. Dairy isn’t the only source for calcium, as implied by the guidelines. Boutin suggests the guidelines should include more complete information about calcium powerhouses, such as bok choy, turnip greens, mustard greens, broccoli, almonds, sesame seeds, tofu, legumes, figs, and amaranth.
- Potassium levels. Boutin says the guidelines should encourage more potassium intake and less sodium intake. Found in lean meats, citrus and dried fruits, kiwi, peanuts, potatoes, bananas, and many other foods, potassium helps regulate blood pressure, heart function, fluid levels, and skin quality.
David Seckman, head of the National Nutritional Foods Association in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit representing manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and distributors of natural products
WHAT HE LIKES
- Exercise. The guidelines now suggest adults participate in at least 60 to 90 minutes of daily moderate-intensity physical activity to manage body weight, prevent gradual weight gain, and sustain weight loss in adulthood.
WHAT HE DISLIKES
- Lack of supplement information. “I don’t think I’d make specific suggestions about which kind of supplements to take,” Seckman says. But he would recommend that everyone take a multivitamin—even kids.
James Rouse, ND, from the Phoenix Center for Health Excellence in Indian Hills, Colorado
WHAT HE LIKES
- Diversity. “I am happy to see deeper distinctions being made for populations that are more vulnerable to various diet and nutritional diseases and conditions,” Rouse says.
WHAT HE DISLIKES
- Sugar. “The public needs to know how much is too much, where sugar is hidden, and how to distinguish between healthy, naturally occurring sugars versus the added sugars and the sugar substitutes,” Rouse says. Although specific sugar advice is missing from the new guidelines, natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables are generally better for the body than those found in processed foods, soft drinks, and most packaged candies.