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Food Bloggers Weigh In On USDA’s New Dietary Guidelines

For the first time ever, guidelines focus on the growing obesity epidemic, telling Americans to eat less, and emphasizing a plant-based diet.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announcing the release of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans on Monday morning.

Photo: USDA (flickr)

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack mentioned during the announcement of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans on Monday, January 31 that these new and improved dietary recommendations give individuals the information to make thoughtful choices of healthier foods in the right proportions and to complement those choices with physical activity.

The federal government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans have prompted a positive yet guarded response from the food blogging community.

The recommendations, released Monday morning (January 31, 2011) by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, were designed to help Americans make healthy food choices. The dietary guidelines are released every five years, with the most recent version resulting in the much-disputed MyPyramid guide.

Reducing Calorie Intake

For nutrition advocates, the biggest surprise came from the newfound focus on the obesity epidemic. “I’m in shock,” said author and New York University professor Marion Nestle. She continued:

The new guidelines recognize that obesity is the number one public health nutrition problem in America and actually give good advice about what to do about it: eat less and eat better. For the first time, the guidelines make it clear that eating less is a priority.

Six Focus Points

The guidelines involve 23 key recommendations, but the committee picked six main points for Americans to focus on.

Balancing Calories:

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.

Foods To Increase:

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods To Reduce:

  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose the foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

In fact, the guidelines sound a lot like Michael Pollan’s famous 7 words of diet advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Vegetarian Alternative

In addition to a focus on eating less, the 2010 version is the first ever to include dietary recommendations for vegans and vegetarians. They note the evidence documenting “lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and lower total mortality” found in people eating plant-based diets.

Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), called the new guidelines “a major leap forward.” PCRM recently sued the USDA over MyPyramid, recommending the vegan-based Power Plate as an alternative.

Role Of Politics

Nestle and Barnard reacted positively, but did not withhold criticism for the new guidelines. Both noted the use of “nutrient euphemisms” when describing foods Americans should limit in their diets.

For example, instead of recommending less meat, the guidelines recommend less solid fats and sodium. And instead of telling people to eat less soda, the guidelines recommend against sugary drinks. Nestle calls it “politics.”

Will People Listen?

Other responses to the guidelines have been lukewarm. The New York Times’ Jeff Gordinier wondered whether the guidelines “aren’t actually late by a decade or two” and questioned whether Americans really look to Uncle Sam for advice on what to eat.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack even admitted that “I never read the dietary guidelines until I got this job.” This may be true for many Americans, but the guidelines are not only for individuals—they are also used to shape policy wherever federal money contributes to the food budget, including planning lunches in public schools.

More updates will be announced in the coming months on how these new guidelines will be implemented, including possible changes to the highly criticized MyPyramid.

Sarah Kaiser

Sarah Kaiser is a student-turned-townie living in Bloomington, Indiana. A social media specialist at Solution Tree, she spends her days tweeting and her nights foraging at the local summer market for new tastes and flavors. And occasionally rocking out on the ukulele.

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