- The federal school meals program;
- The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which supplements those populations with healthy foods;
- Manufacturers, so food labels will be accurate and (hopefully) not contain misleading statements; and
- Consumer education
just to name a few.
So, what do the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans say?
- Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan.
- Focus on variety, nutrient-dense foods, and amount.
- Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake.
- Shift to healthier food and beverage choices.
- Support healthy eating patterns for all.
Umm, what? That all sounds like the kind of vague advice could get from a Magic 8 Ball, if there were such a thing as a Magic Nutrition 8 Ball. What does it mean? Let me break it down for you:
1.“Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan” means that the steady diet of chicken nuggets and French fries your toddlers eat is setting the pattern they will follow for the rest of their (probably prematurely-shortened) lives. While there is no doubt that, say, cancer, or a massive coronary can be a function of gene expression. But helping kids along by providing a standard diet of beige, fried food is probably one of the biggest culprits for the rotten health most of us have.
2. “Focus on variety, nutrient-dense foods, and amount” means if you alternate between pork rinds and hamburger for dinner most nights, with a baked potato on the side loaded with cheese, bacon bits, chili, and sour cream to the point that your spud has its own gravitational pull, you need to branch out. Weight issues plague many of us, myself included. But let’s be realistic; most of us who are overweight are not fat because we’re eating too many leafy greens and bran cereal.
3. “Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake” is code for drink water instead of juice and pop, and please don’t salt your food before you even taste it. I’m no psychic, but if you don’t heed this advice, I predict bad things will probably happen in your not-too-distant future. Things like arteries becoming harder than diamonds and blood pressure soaring so high you blow out your kidneys (hello, dialysis!) before you even have time for a mid-life crisis.
4. “Shift to healthier food and beverage choices” is code for stop eating garbage and drinking sports drinks instead of water because you took a lap around the mall with your 95-year old grandfather. “Shift”, in this sense, means eat mostly healthy stuff.
5. “Support healthy eating patterns for all” means that while your mom may think you’re the center of the universe, there are, in fact, others of us out here, too. And some are starving; some are suffering from the excesses of a food system that turns corn into beef (also known as ‘cows’) and dumps sludge into our waterways; and some don’t have any idea that it’s not really okay that strawberry Pop Tarts are the only fruit they ever eat.
Keep a food diary, just for a few days, to get a more accurate picture of what you are putting in your body. You may think you only drink a few thimblefuls of water and nibble on some crackers, but I guarantee that writing down every item that you shove in your piehole will be an eye-opener!
Pick a typical weekday and one weekend day, and write down everything you eat and drink. Don’t worry about calories, just note the size of what you’ve had to eat or drink. Then email them to me. In future columns, I would like to share a few submissions so we can all peek into our neighbors’ cabinets and fridges. It’s hard, I know, and I’m right there with you.
I’m not fat-shaming or trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, because Lord knows I have struggled with my weight all my life, but does it really matter if your feelings are hurt when you die because you didn’t survive the emergency quadruple bypass you had to have?