People should take responsibility for exercising, eating less and eating better food, the new U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services guidelines say.
They recommend eating up to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, unchanged from the 2000 food pyramid, but specify that at least three of the daily servings of grains be whole grains such as whole wheat, oats or brown rice.
“Nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese and more than 50 percent of us Americans do not get the recommended amount of physical activity - 30 minutes a day for adults and 60 minutes a day for children,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told a news conference.
The guidelines, published on the Internet at http://www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines, do not yet have the old familiar “food pyramid” shape and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said her department was still discussing whether to continue using the pyramid format.
Consumer groups had hoped the panel would recommend that Americans limit soft drinks and other sugary foods, but the new guide does not specifically recommend cutting sugar.
Instead, it says Americans should try to get an initial 2,000 calories or so from the recommended groups and save sugars and pure fats for “discretionary foods.”
“Many of the recommendations are not significantly different from what has been recommended in the past, whether it is eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk and dairy sources,” Veneman said. “I think all of these have been pretty consistent messages.”
NOTHING ABOUT ADVERTISING JUNK FOOD
Groups had also hoped that the guidelines would have specific recommendations on limiting certain unhealthy types of dietary fat, and perhaps even address the issue of advertising junk foods to children.
“We in this administration feel strongly that people should have an opportunity to advertise,” Thompson said. “But we have to do a better job to get out and more aggressively tell the other side.”
As for fats, Veneman said, “Several of the key recommendations talk about the amount of fat that is appropriate in the diet.”
The range given is between 20 and 35 percent of calories from fat, with a recommendation that most fats eaten be polyunsaturated or unsaturated fats - found in vegetable and fish oils. It advises people to “consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids and less than 300 mg a day of cholesterol.”
Veneman denied that the food industry had much influence on the guidelines. “The process that was used to develop these guidelines was more rigorous, more science-based and more transparent than ever before,” she said.
Thompson said the guidelines are meant in part to help Americans understand that they are responsible for their own health and cannot rely on diet drugs.
“Let’s face it. Everyone in America is looking to NIH (the National Institutes of Health) to come up with that pill. It’s not going to happen,” he said.
And Thompson gave his own immediate prescription for weight loss.
“Tonight eat only half the dessert. And then go out and walk around the block. And if you are going to watch television get down and do 10 push-ups and five sit-ups,” he said.
“It takes some personal initiative to get the job done.”
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD