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New Dietary Guidelines Focus On ‘Making Every Bite Count’

Recommendations Are Modified For Age, Gender

Baskets of spinach
In this photo taken Jan. 2, 2016, baskets of organic spinach and other leafy greens are displayed for sale at a farmers market in Falls Church, Va.  Raw spinach and other leafy greens are a major source of E. Coli infection in the U.S. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

New dietary guidelines have been released by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services that emphasize healthy eating in all stages of life and customizing meals to fit cultural preferences.

Beth Olson, an associate professor and extension specialist in the nutritional sciences department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said another emphasis of the guidelines that were released in December is choosing nutrient-dense food to ensure we’re getting what we need and trimming off excess.

The newest installment of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans will last through 2025 and help inform dietary guidelines for state and federal programs such as school lunches and meals for seniors.

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Although the guidelines aren’t tremendously different from previous years — messages like eat lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains remain the same — the way the information is packaged has been revamped.

“The scientific committee this time pointed out, unfortunately, we haven’t made a lot of improvements to our diets in recent years,” she said. “It’s showing a little bit in our health.”

For example, Olson said this five-year plan named “Make Every Bite Count” is a reference to the message that we might not have as much room to indulge in unhealthy foods as we think we do.

“We should enjoy what we like to eat, but the majority of our calories really should be coming from the healthiest of foods in order for us to be healthy,” she said.

Eating Healthy At The Start

This ninth edition of the guidelines is the first to offer dietary advice for different age groups, starting with infants.

The guidelines recommend that infants who are six months or younger should be fed human milk or iron-fortified infant formula.

At six months old, infants should be introduced to nutrient-dense foods and potentially foods that could trigger allergies.

“We used to start them out on all these foods that we thought would reduce their risk of getting allergies, and then we’d withhold all those foods we thought might cause allergies until they were older,” Olson said, noting that by exposing children to a wide variety of foods, their bodies learn that those foods are safe.

Because children younger than two years old don’t have room for extra calories, the guidelines note that added sugar should be completely removed from their diets, including juice because of its high sugar content.

According to the guidelines, babies at 12 months should be getting 800 calories. That slightly changes depending on gender throughout 18 months. By month 21, infants should be taking in about 1,000 calories a day.

Pick Nutrient-Rich Foods

One of the main takeaways from the guidelines is a recommendation that Americans should choose foods that are nutrient-rich and should work on staying within our daily caloric limits.

These foods should be chosen first, because most of our daily caloric intake will be eaten up by these foods that are needed to meet food group recommendations.

The guidelines say that there are only about 15 percent of calories each day that can be reserved for added sugars, saturated fats and alcohol.

“If you get past 15 percent, you start to either add on calories that might help lead to weight gain, or you’re going to displace something else that you really do need,” Olson said.

At each meal, your plate should be half fruits and vegetables. A quarter of the plate should be some sort of grain and the other quarter should be a source of protein. Varying the type of food is important.

Graphic courtesy of the USDA

For example, Olson said Americans gets plenty of chicken and beef, which helps us meet our protein needs. But Olson said we don’t get enough protein from plants such as lentils and beans, nor do we get enough from seafood.

For help on finding the right amount of nutrients and calories, try MyPlate Plan, which creates a specific plan based on your age, gender, height, weight and physical activity level.

Change It Up

About 59 percent of Americans abide by the dietary recommendations, according to the report, and Olson said it can be challenging to change those habits.

But one way to do it, she said, is to start small.

“What are some simple, easy steps you could do?”‘ she asked. Maybe if you’re not a big vegetable eater, you could try packing a crunchy vegetable for lunch each day for one week instead of crackers or chips.

Another option is to tweak the foods you’re already making, for example by broiling chicken instead of deep-frying it.

Olson said these guidelines are more concerned with patterns of eating versus the occasional buttered popcorn at a movie theater or a piece of cake at a birthday party.

“What are the kinds of things we do that aren’t as healthy over time that we could make healthy over time so that those indulgences are OK because they’re not every day or every meal?” she said.