10 easy ways to meet the new Dietary Guidelines
By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., February 1, 2011 - 11:49am
In what felt—to me and others in the nutrition community—like a long time coming, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines were released yesterday. Remember, it’s 2011 now, folks, not 2010. Nevertheless, they are here and while many debate their efficacy and the politics behind them (see Marion Nestle’s post here), the point of the dietary guidelines is to help Americans improve their health. The majority of Americans, after all, are overweight or obese and many of us have—or are at risk for developing—diet-related conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis.
Here are the super-simplified, main take-home messages of the new guidelines:
- Balance your calories: Balance what you eat with what you burn (through just living and breathing and also through exercise) to maintain—or obtain—a healthy weight.
- Eat more of these foods: Fruits and vegetables; whole grains; fat-free or low-fat dairy; a variety of protein-rich foods, such as poultry, tofu and lean meats and, particularly, seafood; and foods that provide potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D (which should be easy to get when you eat the foods just mentioned).
- Eat less of these: Sodium (less than 2,300 milligrams per day for most Americans); saturated fat (less than 10 percent of calories); dietary cholesterol (less than 300 milligrams daily); trans fat; added sugars; refined grains; and alcohol (up to 1 drink per day for women, 2 for men).
The true challenge, however, regardless of how simple the recommendations are, is actually implementing the dietary guidelines into your everyday life. Below are some of my tips and tricks to help you do so
1. Calculate how many calories you need. To balance what you take in with what you expend (read: maintain your current weight), it’s essential that you know just how many calories your body needs. Use this simple calculation:
YOUR CURRENT WEIGHT X 12 = calories needed to maintain your weight
[Note: This calculation works best for people who are fairly inactive. If you exercise regularly and you find that you’re starving—or losing more than 2 pounds a week after the first couple weeks—you may need to bump up calories a tad.]
Must-Read: Looking to Lose Weight? Use This Formula
2. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. You’ve heard it before...Americans just aren’t getting enough fruits and vegetables: in 2009, 32.5 percent of adults met the recommendation to eat 2 daily servings of fruit and 26.3 percent of adults ate the daily recommended amount of veggies (about 3 servings). A simple way to eat more is to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal.
Check it Out: Does Your Plate Look Like This? It Should
3. Simplify. If meeting the Dietary Guidelines feels overwhelming, find ways to make things a little easier on yourself. If you can afford it, take a few shortcuts and add chopped fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables (frozen is an equally healthy choice and is cost-effective, especially in winter) and packaged low-fat dairy products (two food groups you should eat more of) to your shopping cart. Face it: it is easier to get that extra serving of dairy if you only need to remember to bring a single-serve container of low-fat cottage cheese to work for an afternoon snack; and preparing broccoli to serve alongside a weeknight dinner is much faster when it’s already chopped.
Recipes to Try: Easy Recipes for Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
4. Eat breakfast. There are many benefits to eating breakfast: regular breakfast eaters are leaner and they get more good-for-you nutrients, including fiber, calcium, vitamins A and C, riboflavin, zinc and iron and less dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. But eating a healthy breakfast can also help you get in a serving of a food group that may otherwise be difficult to fit into your daily eating routine. For example, if dairy is a challenge, try a fat-free or low-fat yogurt. Want to eat more whole grains? Try oatmeal. Make that oatmeal with milk and you’ll get some calcium. Knock off a serving of fruit by keeping frozen or dried fruit on hand and mixing it in.
Must-Read: The #1 Food You Should Eat for Breakfast This Year
Recipes to Try: Grab-and-Go Whole-Grain Breakfasts
5. Plan and pack healthy snacks. The same rule of thumb applies here as it does for breakfast: instead of giving in to unhealthy options in the office vending machine or candy in the checkout aisle of the grocery store, aim for your snack to deliver food and nutrients that you typically fall short on.
Recipes to Try: Delicious 100-Calorie Snacks
6. Swap butter for oil. An easy way to immediately cut back on how much saturated fat you eat is to trade your solid fats (butter and lard) for liquid fat, or oils. Think beyond the bread basket: for example, try canola oil in place of butter when cooking and avocado in place of mayonnaise in sandwiches.
Check it Out: Get More Fast Fat-Swap Ideas Here
Recipes to Try: 10 Healthy Baking Recipes with Olive Oil
7. Go meatless once a week. Skipping meat and poultry just one day a week can help you cut your saturated-fat intake significantly. And because we often trade meat and poultry for vegetarian protein sources (think: beans, soy, nuts), we’re naturally getting more good-for-you nutrients like fiber.
Recipes to Try: 20+ Vegetarian Recipes You Must Try
8. Think differently about dessert. Just because the Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting foods that contain refined grains, solid fats, added sugars and sodium—most of which come together in dessert—you don’t have to ditch it altogether. In fact, it may be easier to stick to your diet if it includes a little sweet treat. Instead, shift your focus to what type of dessert you’re choosing. For example, a fruit-based dessert will tame your sweet tooth and deliver a serving of fruit.
Recipes to Try: Tame Your Sweet Tooth With These 15-Minute Fruit Desserts
9. Cook fish on the day you grocery shop. You want to eat the freshest fish possible and rarely do you have time to stop at the store on your way home from work to pick it up. Sound familiar? If so, instead of forgoing fish, pick up some salmon on the day you do your weekly grocery shopping and cook it that night. If you have some canned chunk light tuna or canned sardines for lunch later in the week you’ll easily meet the weekly 8-ounce fish recommendation. One more piece of advice: vary what you pick up each week (the Dietary Guidelines recommend increasing both the amount and variety of seafood you eat).
Must-Read: Fish and Shellfish: 6 of the Healthiest to Eat, 6 to Avoid
10. Seek out packaged foods with less salt. It’s recommended that most Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day (sounds like a lot, but it’s actually the amount of sodium in just 1 teaspoon of table salt). Adults 51 years and over and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease should limit their sodium even more to just 1,500 milligrams daily. Yet, on average, Americans currently consume 3,400 milligrams—most of it hidden in processed foods. When buying soups and other canned goods, look for those labeled “no salt added” or “low sodium ” (means no more than 140 mg per 100 grams, or about 336 mg per cup). “Reduced sodium” is often a good choice, too, but it means only that the product contains at least 25 percent less than its original version (of that brand); compare the nutrition labels of different brands to find the ones with the least sodium.
Check It Out: More Easy Ways to Cut Sodium
Related Links from EatingWell:
- 12 Foods You Should Buy Organic
- 10 Ways to Curb Your Sweet Tooth
- 28-Day Meal Plans for 1,200, 1,500 and 1,800 Calories
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