open 8am to 10pm daily
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by Dawn B. Olcott
Information on nutrition and health selected
from a variety of publications for your enjoyment and edification.
On January 2, the fourth edition
of the Dietary Guide-lines for Americans was released as a joint
effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department
of Health and Human Services. These Guidelines are a revised version
of the 1990 Guidelines for "healthy Americans age 2 years and
over about food choices that promote health and prevent disease".
This year's edition includes recognition of vegetarian diets as
a healthful choice, and encouragement of physical activity along
with wise food choices.
The Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans, "choose a
diet with most of the calories from grain products, vegetables,
fruits, lowfat milk products, lean meats, fish, poultry, and dry
beans. Choose fewer calories from fats and sweets." They encourage
Americans to use the Food Guide Pyramid to set goals for the kinds
and amounts of foods to eat each day. Nutrition Facts Labels on
food packages are helpful when choosing individual foods that meet
The text is accompanied by useful charts, lists, and tables such
as serving sizes for each food group in the pyramid, good sources
of calcium and carotenoids, and the different ways sugar can be
named on a food label. Each section concludes with concise "Advice
The following is a brief review of the seven basic guidelines:
1. Eat a variety of foods
Eating a variety of foods makes it easier to get all of the necessary
nutrients to stay healthy. This is the major point of the Food Pyramid,
which shows what proportion of your food should come from each food
group. This section of the guidelines lists serving sizes, and touches
on the special nutrition needs of children, teenagers, women, and
A subsection titled "What about Vegetarian Diets?" states
that, "Vegetarian diets are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines
for Americans and can meet the Recommended Dietary Allowances for
nutrients." It also discusses the need for variety in a vegetarian
diet with special attention to vitamin B12. An important point is
that the diets of vegetarian children require particular care to
ensure adequacy of vitamin D and calcium, if milk products are not
part of the diet.
2. Balance the food you eat with physical activity; maintain
or improve your weight
This guideline encourages Americans to balance their caloric intake
with exercise. Most Americans should "be more active, because
a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthful." They recommend 30 minutes
or more of moderate activity on most, preferably all, days and suggest
simple changes like using the stairs rather than the elevator, or
walking to the store or around the block.
This section also discusses such topics as high caloric foods, the
implications of the location of body fat, healthy ways to lose weight,
the health risks of excessive thinness (particularly in women),
and care with weight regulation in children.
3. Choose a diet with plenty of grain products, vegetables,
This section points out that consumption of grains, vegetables and
fruits is associated with a substantially lower risk for many chronic
diseases. However, most Americans of all ages eat fewer than the
recommended number of servings of these foods. The discussion includes
the nutrients that plant foods provide with a recommendation to
eat dry beans, lentils and peas "more often," along with
the fiber-rich foods mentioned above.
4. Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol
The general recommendation is to use fats and oils sparingly, although
"some fat is needed for good health." While the discussion
centers around the benefits of a low fat diet, including the role
of cholesterol and saturated fats, it provides information on the
benefits of monounsaturated and poly-unsaturated fatty acids. It
recommends that no more than 30 percent of daily calories be from
fat and that, "mono- and polyunsaturated fat sources should
replace saturated fats within this limit."
The text specifically mentions that a particular type of monounsaturated
fat, omega-3 fatty acids, are under study because of a possible
association with a decreased risk of heart disease in some people.
It also includes mention of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils,
which contain a "form of unsaturated fat known as trans-fatty
acids that may raise blood cholesterol levels...".
5. Choose a diet moderate in sugars
A general discussion about the nature of sugars, dietary carbohydrates,
and starches introduces this section. Eating sugars in large amounts
is not recommended, particularly frequent snacking on foods and
beverages containing sugars that supply unnecessary calories and
few nutrients. Sugars play a major role in tooth decay and should
be used in moderation by most healthy people, sparingly by people
with low calorie needs. This section also discusses sugar substitutes
and their use in some low calorie diets. Not all sugar substitutes
are lower in calories than similar products that contain sugars.
6. Choose a diet moderate in salt and sodium
The role of salt (sodium) in the body, and specifically its role
in high blood pressure is the focus of this section. It notes that
the Daily Value for salt, 2,400 mg per day, is slightly over one
teaspoon (2,300 mg) and that most people consume more than this
amount. They recommend not adding salt, or salty sauces such as
soy sauce, to foods and choosing foods from the Food Pyramid that
are naturally low in sodium. The emphasis is on the use of fresh
foods, herbs and spices.
7. If you drink alcholic beverages, do so in moderation
It is recommended that if you drink alcoholic beverages, "do
so in moderation, with meals, and when consumption does not put
you or others at risk."
This section discusses harmful affects of alcohol when consumed
in excess, including dependency and malnutrition. It lists individuals
who should not drink, such as children and adolescents, women who
are trying to conceive or are pregnant, individuals who cannot restrict
their drinking, individuals who plan to drive, and individuals using
over the counter and prescription medications.
This section also mentions, however, that moderate drinking is associated
with lower risk of coronary heart disease in some individuals. Moderate
drinking is defined as no more than one drink per day for women
and two for men (one drink is 12 oz. beer, 5 oz. wine, or 1.5 oz.
For more information or a copy of the Guidelines, you can contact
the Consumer Affairs Department at 202-429-8239. The Guidelines
can also be downloaded from the USDA's homepage at http://www.usda.gov/fcs/cnpp.html.
Dawn Olcott is Publications Coordinator