Wednesday, February 2, 2011

New USDA Guidelines and then... Mine.

Recently, the USDA released "new" guidelines to "help Americans make healthier food choices and combat the obesity epidemic." An astonishing 2/3 of Americans are overweight (BMI>25%) or obese (BMI>30%). If you are curious - here is a state-by-state map of obesity trends across the U.S. (Fascinating - Colorado is the leanest state, while Mississippi is the fattest. See where your state stands up! I am proud of my home state.) 

The new guidelines are not surprising, but the idea is that they can be presented in a clear and easy to understand way so that more people can grasp what they guidelines actually mean. It does seem strange that we need the government to tell us how to eat - Americans in general have lost a lot of traditional food knowledge (things our grandparents and great-grandparents knew) when Americans started eating from fast food restaurants and cooking with canned soup. The evidence that big industry and big advertising dollars completely changed nearly an entire culture's diet is astonishing - and the incredibly high incidence of obesity is the result. 

From the USDA press release:

Enjoy your food, but eat less.
Tip: Eating off smaller plates and bowls will make this easier! And - well, only eat when you are hungry as opposed to when you're bored, or watching TV, or driving. 
Avoid oversized portions.
Restaurants are notorious for this! Split meals, or put half your meal in a to-go container before you even start eating. 
Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. 
Simple enough - just make sure they are REAL fruits and vegetables, whole foods. 
Make half your grains whole. 
Or all of them!!!! Nutrient losses from refined (white) flour (from Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley) 
% Loss
Thiamine (B1)
Riboflavin (B2)
Niacin (nicotinic acid)
Pyridoxine (B6)
Pantothenic acid
Vitamin E

Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
Or drink rice or soy milk. Be cautious of going on a completely fat-free diet: vitamins are fat soluble so you need fats for your body to utilize them! Go for healthy fats - poly and mono-unsaturated fats like olive oil or canola oil. 
Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers.
Or avoid these processed foods all together and cook from scratch! Then YOU control all the ingredients. Ross and I make a large pot of soup a week then enjoy it as leftovers throughout the week, and it's super easy. Oh, and we make all our own bread. 
Drink water instead of sugary drinks. 
The greatest source of discretionary calories in today's average American diet comes from beverages - the greatest culprit, pop. I would recommend starting right this moment and never drinking pop (soda if you insist), Gatorade, energy drinks, Kool-aid, or Sunny-D again. All of these beverages contain public enemy #1 - High Fructose Corn Syrup. HFCS comes genetically modified "Liberty Corn" and is subsidized by the government.  Drink water, REAL fruit juices, coffee and/or tea.

Here's another suggestion: eliminate HFCS entirely from your diet, read the labels and refuse to buy anything that contains HFCS. You will automatically steer clear of highly processed foods that contain high levels of sodium and artificial ingredients, and will be on the way to a healthier you! 

There was a great story on NPR yesterday from Talk of the Nation, which highlights the new guidelines and also discusses why the USDA isn't simply telling you to eat less red meat, or stop drinking pop: part of the USDA's mission is to promote American agriculture, and both the FDA and USDA are tied up in politics and lobbied by the Beef Council, the Dairy Council, the Council on Biotechnology, etc. So, that's what you get when government regulatory agencies supporting human health and nutrition are influenced by industry - 66% of your population overweight or obese. Clearly something hasn't been working. 

A solution? Follow these three rules from Michael Pollan: 

Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. 

Check out Mark Bittman's (the author of my favorite vegetarian cookbook!) article "A Food Manifesto for the Future" here from the New York Times. Here's something that could be monumentally more effective that new, refurbished and spruced-up USDA dietary guidelines. 

In general, this is what he is argues needs to happen to the food "system" in the US. I agree. 
  • End subsidies to processed food
  • Start subsizing small farmers who sell actual food for direct consumption
  • Break up the bureaucracies at the USDA and the FDA
  • Ban factory-farm style animal feeding
  • Encourage and subsidize home cooking
  • Institute a junk food sales and marketing tax
  • Encourage recycling while reducing waste
  • Require truth in labeling
  • Invest in sustainable agriculture research

And check out this fantastic cookbook for all your from-scratch cooking needs! 

Here's to a healthy you!!!!!