Every five years since 1980, our government has come out with a new set of dietary guidelines after surveying and studying the nation's eating habits. These guidelines help federal and state food and public health programs determine how they can best serve their communities. The latest publication (for years 2020-2025, found here: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf) was quite bleak to read. Let me share with you some of the shocking facts that were given. I promise we will end on a hopeful note, though, so stick with me.
Just the Facts, Ma'am
74% of adults are overweight or obese.
40% of children and adolescents are overweight or obese.
Almost 35% of adults have prediabetes.
Almost 90% of adults with diabetes are overweight or obese.
17% of adult women and 5% of adult men have osteoporosis.
80% or greater of Americans have dietary patterns low in vegetables, fruit, and dairy.
More than half of Americans are meeting or exceeding total grain and total protein food recommendations... But 98% do not meet the whole grain recommendation.
Almost 90% of the US population does not meet the recommendation for vegetables or dairy.
Calcium, potassium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D are currently public health concerns.
More than half of adults have one or more diet-related chronic diseases.
Based on 2015's average "Total Healthy Eating Index", all age groups have a lot of ground to make up to eat more healthfully. In order of healthiest eaters to least healthy eaters in our nation: ages 60+ take first, followed by ages 2-4, ages 31-59, ages 19-30, ages 5-8, ages 9-13, and ages 14-18.
The Guidelines Themselves
Now that I have your attention, let's talk about how we can fix this nutritionally-deficient nation, starting with ourselves. The four guidelines are as follows:
Guideline 1: Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage.
What's a dietary pattern? Essentially, you can't just claim that you eat healthfully because you ate a salad once. Contrarily, you aren't an unhealthy person just because you had ice cream at the park over the weekend with your kid. A dietary pattern is the summation of choices that you make, including the habits you create. Whether you wake up a little earlier to eat a balanced breakfast or you swing through the coffee shop drive-thru on your way to work, you are developing dietary patterns that can affect your overall health down the road. Healthy dietary patterns that are higher in whole fruits, whole grains, vegetables, and low-fat dairy within a calorie limit are associated with a longer, healthier life. Dietary patterns that are higher in red meats, refined grains, sodium, saturated fats, and sugar are associated with higher health risks. The guideline suggests that through all life stages, we should try to have a healthier foods be net positive.
Guideline 2: Customize and enjoy food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, culture traditions, and budgetary considerations.
If you're a fan of my blog, you know that this is the basis and purpose of my writing. Everyone has their own food philosophy that includes their personal preferences and culture traditions, but good nutrition can absolutely fit into any lifestyle or budget. For budget concerns, check out my blog post "Budget is Not a Four-Letter Word" to gain some tips and tricks on how to cut cost. Also, the USDA has created four food plans with different budgets: Thrifty (which is being revised and should be available by 2022), Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal-Cost. Good nutrition should taste good and be affordable.
Guideline 3: Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and stay within calorie limits.
You might remember the Food Guide Pyramid from your school days, right? Since 2011, we now have MyPlate to better represent more clearly how we should be eating. Half of our plate should be fruits and vegetables, one quarter of the plate protein, and the remaining quarter grains. MyPlate emphasizes that a serving of low-fat dairy is recommended three times a day. Fruits and vegetables can be dried, cooked, fresh, canned, frozen, or 100% juice. There's absolutely no need for them to be organic or non-GMO, though that may be your food philosophy. Whole fruits and vegetables that have not had fat, sugar, or salt added to them are best, and juice should only be up to half of all fruits or vegetables consumed. Proteins should be lean more often than not and are more nutrient-dense when not cooked in fats or sugary sauces. Half of grains eaten should be whole grains. By following the guidelines set forth by MyPlate, individuals can eat a balanced diet to achieve their food group needs. As far as staying within calorie limits, portion sizes have to also be a priority. Water is always the best beverage choice to achieve nutritional goals. Get more information at: https://www.myplate.gov/.
Guideline 4: Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fats and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages.
To elaborate more on this guideline, you can read my blog posts "Are You Running on Empty?" and "Salt of the Earth". To summarize here, you don't have the calorie budget to eat added sugars, saturated fats, or drink much alcohol at all and still meet your nutritional needs for the day. Oh, and your heart HATES sodium. You should care about that, too, because heart disease is the leading cause of death.
Life is Precious
It is clear that eating unhealthfully is the norm for the average American household. In our busy lives, cheap and easy seems like the only way some days. Breaking habits is difficult. Eating a favorite food in moderation takes discipline. Changing a lifestyle is hard. Investing in the health of you and your family is effort, that is for sure... But isn't it worth it? Life is precious because it does not last forever. Making a change for the better, no matter the life stage, can make an improvement to your quality of life. Start today and be a part of nursing America back to health.