The (Fairly) Simple Message in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines

Do you eat your fruits and vegetables? Favor whole grains? Cook most of your meals at home? You’ve already hit most of the high points in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans released last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services.

In our previous stories about the advisory committee’s suggestions for the guidelines, we made some predictions based on recommendations that lined up with NOURISH Evolution's core principles of sound nutrition, eco-clean eating, mindful meals and kitchen tips. Let’s see how we fared:

Prediction: Shift to a Plant-Based Diet

Outcome: One of the main goals of the 2010 guidelines is to encourage Americans to choose nutrient-dense foods, including fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, and whole grains. In one of the most tangible takeaway messages, the guidelines instruct us to “make half your plate fruits and vegetables.” That's pretty straightforward.

The guidelines also cover the benefits of plant-centered eating patterns, including DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), the Mediterranean diet and even vegetarian and vegan diets.

Diary has a prominent place in the guidelines (no surprise there, given the dairy industry's influence on the USDA), though with the recommendation to choose low-fat (1%) or fat-free variations. This is to help ensure we all get adequate calcium, vitamin D and potassium. The guidelines cite moderate evidence linking milk with bone and heart health. However, some experts question the benefit of dairy and other animal-based proteins for bone health.

The new guidelines give ample play to alternative protein sources, encouraging everyone to eat more seafood, soy products, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. They even recommend replacing some lean meat and poultry with seafood.

Our take: We like the emphasis on plant foods, plus the tangible advice for how that plays out on your plate. It's nice to see plant-based and seafood proteins given prominent play alongside meat and poultry in the variety of suggested options.

Prediction: Increase Environmentally Sustainable Food

Outcome: The advisory committee called for increasing environmentally sustainable agriculture and aquaculture but stopped short of recommending organics specifically. Indeed, the final guidelines include this statement: “Develop and expand safe, effective, and sustainable agriculture and aquaculture practices to ensure availability of recommended amounts of healthy foods to all segments of the population.”

Our take: We would have liked more specifics on what they mean by “safe, effective and sustainable.” Moreover, the new guidelines have a specific recommendation to eat 8 ounces of seafood per week, which will serve to increase demand for fish. It would have been helpful to include the advice to choose sustainable seafood.

Prediction: Eat Attentively

Outcome: The advisory committee called for Americans to be mindful eaters, but we didn’t think this advice would make it into the final guidelines because it would prove too hard to put into specific terms. We were wrong! The final guidelines’ address many aspects of food behavior, including tips ranging from tracking calories to paying close attention to feelings of hunger, noting when you tend to overeat, and not eating while doing other activities like watching TV. Other strategies that fall under the mindful-eating category include planning meals, using smaller plates to minimize portions and reading food labels.

Our take: We’re pleasantly surprised to see the guidelines address this issue in such specific terms.

Prediction: Learn to Cook, America

Outcome: Previous incarnations of the Dietary Guidelines have struck me as scolding. The advisory committee's recommendations were no different, taking Americans to task for eating too many meals out. But they also favored including recommendations to improve cooking literacy, including safe food handling and teaching kitchen skills in schools. That's advice the final guidelines has taken.

A substantial section addresses the need to overhaul the cultural environment to support healthier individual food choices. These measures include improving access to healthy food, working with food producers to develop better options and supporting healthy-eating legislative measures. Then there's little nugget:

“Empower individuals and families with improved nutrition literacy, gardening, and cooking skills to heighten enjoyment of preparing and consuming healthy foods.”

Our take: We heartily support any measure that encourages people to enjoy cooking–and eating. The more comfortable you are in the kitchen, the more control you have over what you eat and the easier it is to make healthy, seasonal and sustainable food part of your diet.

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Hey there ... I'm Lia Huber

Hey there ... I'm Lia Huber

My mission is to inspire and equip you to live a richer life through real food by becoming a more competent, confident home cook.

I’m the author of Nourished: A Memoir of Food, Faith, and Enduring Love, founder and CEO of Nourish Evolution, and the creator of Cook the Seasons, Home Cooking School, and the Real Food Reset, and I empower intentional women to cook in a way that brings them (and their families) joy, health, and ease.

Making the shift from processed food to real food doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an evolution that occurs over time, with effort, intention, and belief. And it will change the course of your life. Are you ready to take the first step? I’m so glad you’re here … and I’m honored to be with you on the journey to becoming nourished!

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