Did you hear that it’s National Nutrition month? Let’s celebrate by taking the time to revisit the 2015- 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The Dietary Guidelines is published jointly every five years by the Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture. Its focus is on disease prevention and health promotion. Previous editions focused mainly on individual components of the diet, such as food groups and nutrients.
Remember the Food Pyramid? While food groups are important, a growing body of scientific literature has concentrated on the relationship between overall eating patterns, health and risk of chronic disease. As a result, eating patterns are the main focus of the latest recommendations in the guidelines.
WHAT IS A HEALTHY EATING PATTERN?
For the purpose of this article, I’m providing the abbreviated definition. An eating pattern can be defined as the combination of food and beverages that make up an individual’s completed dietary intake over time. In other words, what an individual habitually eats and drinks.
A healthy eating pattern requires making healthy choices across the food groups in order to achieve three key goals: maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy and reduce risk of chronic disease. And the guidelines recommends following this healthy eating pattern across one’s lifespan.
LONG TERM LIFESTYLE
I like this recommendation in particular because, nine times out of 10 times, people tell me their primary goal is to lose weight. But here we can see that losing weight is only part of the goal. Yes, agreed, losing weight is a good part of the goal. But the immediate follow-up is more importantly, how to sustain that new found waistline.
Now we turn to eating patterns. It may sound daunting, but it’s a new eating pattern that got you to the reduced size. And so, in order to stay in that new size, you need to sustain the eating pattern for the rest of your life. Therefore, it has to be a pattern that’s healthy and enjoyable.
Additionally, the way you think about your health and wellness plays a role in the actions that you take towards practicing healthy eating patterns to create lasting changes. Perhaps as we age, it’s natural to make lasting changes because we value our health and wellness with a greater sense of depth. Then again, maybe our doctor said, “Take this or else.”
TOP ACTION ORIENTED STEPS
Here are some steps to start with that can move you closer to practicing healthy eating patterns:
- Decrease calorie consumption on an average daily basis by 250 calories. Since one pound of fat is approximately 3,500 calories, then this reduction will result in one-half pound weight loss per week.
- Increase exercise. Add steps to your day with a minimum goal of 10,000 steps per day. Not only will this contribute to faster weight loss, but a good pattern to establish to ward off chronic disease by staying active.
- Stick to the limits. The Dietary Guidelines quantifies three key recommendations on components of the diet to limit. They are:
Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars — 6-12 teaspoons or roughly 25-50 grams of added sugar.
Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats. (Pizza is a major source of heart-unhealthy saturated fat in the American diet.)
Consume less than 2,300 mg per day of sodium (1,500 mg is preferred especially for those with hypertension).
And some basic at home tactics:
- Use vegetables as pizza toppings such as broccoli, mushrooms, spinach, peppers, zucchini. (one in 10 Americans consume pizza on any given day.)
- Eat seafood twice a week such as salmon, trout, sardines; all higher in omega-3’s and lower in mercury
- Experiment with more plant-based meals. Expand the variety in your menus with budget friendly meatless meals. Vegetables, beans, lentils are all great substitutes. Try including one meatless meal per week.
4. Get into a wellness state of mind. If you prioritize your wellness, you’ll think more about making the healthiest choice when it comes to food and physical activity.
And lastly, “practice makes perfect.” There is of course, no guarantee. But practicing such strategies every day will help you develop eating patterns that are no longer a struggle to enforce but become a way of optimally living an active and healthy life. Keep your goals top of mind and forge ahead.