"While increasing fruit and vegetable intake is not new advice, decreasing meat consumption has undeniably become more popular in the past few years."
Every five years, the United States Department of Agriculture releases updated nutritional guidelines for how Americans should eat. It's from this Dietary Guidelines for Americans that everyone from policy-makers to the media gleans its federally-sanctioned eating advice. These guidelines also shape federal food assistance programs.
According to the USDA website, the goals of the guidelines are to "promote health, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and reduce prevalence of overweight and obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity."
In June of 2010, the USDA released a Dietary Guidelines Report that provided some insight into how recommendations have shifted since 2005. To briefly summarize, the report advised Americans to switch to a plant-based diet, consume less meat and sodium, and avoid solid fats and added sugars. As your calendar may indicate, the 2010 guidelines have been a bit delayed, but the USDA released the official report yesterday morning.
A committee of 13 experts was selected to serve as the drafters of the new Dietary Guidelines. These members are primarily professors of nutrition and medicine, hailing from various universities and clinics.
As reported on Obama Foodorama, the committee held six public conversations over the last two years to debate the guidelines, and the discussion process has been transparent and open to the public via transcripts and webinars on the USDA website. Citizen participation in the drafting of the 2010 guidelines was significantly higher than in the last cycle.
Some of the primary areas of focus of this year's guidelines are maintaining a healthy weight, developing a consistent and satisfying eating pattern, and increasing intake of particular nutrients and vitamins. There's also a strong emphasis on reducing the intake of fats, sugars, and sodium, as well as meat consumption.
Most information is targeted at consumers, but a section on "Helping Americans Make Healthy Choices" seems to speak to policy-makers and others whose aim to assist others in bettering their own lifestyles.
The guidelines reflect several themes that have dictated discussion of American nutrition in the past five years. Decreased sodium intake, for instance, has been the subject of a new health initiative in New York City that targets both packaged and restaurant foods. Trans fats have been banned from restaurants in several cities, including New York in 2006 and Philadelphia in 2007.
And while increasing fruit and vegetable intake is not new advice, decreasing meat consumption has undeniably become more popular in the past few years, notably through a resurgence of the "Meatless Monday" campaign.
For access to the USDA's press release, and the full text of the Dietary Guidelines: head over to DietaryGuidelines.gov. And if all that policy is just too much to handle, this quick and dirty document provides key recommendations from the broader guidelines in under a hundred words (and with some lovely pictures at the top).
About the author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves consuming and learning about as much food as possible. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine. She blogs at Feasting on Providence.