Thursday, February 3, 2011

Government’s Dietary Advice: Eat Less

On Monday, officials at the USDA "issued their bluntest nutrition advice to date: drink water instead of sugary drinks like soda, fill your plate with fruits and vegetables and cut down on processed foods filled with sodium, fat or sugar. More important, perhaps, the government told Americans, “Enjoy your food, but eat less.” Many Americans eat too many calories every day, expanding their waistlines and imperiling their health."

The clear message that half of your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables is certainly one to be applauded. But in an era of super-sized portions, what does "eat less" really mean? There's talk that processed food manufacturers will be pressured to reformulate many of their recipes in order to reduce the sodium present in their "food products," but what about restaurants' super-sized portions? For many Americans, the super-sized portion is the new normal and they mimic those restaurant portions at home. How can we scale down the new normal to reasonable portion?

Its really interesting to learn that Americans eat 180% of the allowed solid fats and refined sugars (see chart above). Its equally interesting to see that even with the recent push toward more whole grains, Americans are still only getting 15% of the recommended goal and only 59% of the recommended vegetable intake (although, that is still a 'failing grade' it is higher than I might have thought). I think that the USDA might benefit from using some of Michael Pollan's vocabulary: "eat real food, mostly plants, but not too much." Real Food is what we are talking about here, but to invoke that kind of language would have the processed food manufacturers up in arms because nothing threatens an industry more than showing that the emperor has no clothes. So, the USDA follows a half-measures approach, food plebes are still confused and foodies are still a small segment of the population, but hey, consider committing to one day of "real food"--nothing processed or packaged--one day per week and go from there.


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