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Nutrition Experts React to New Dietary Guidelines

WebMD Expert Column

To some people, the new dietary guidelines might seem like the same old advice. But these guidelines, which come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), are different.

The overarching foundation for the recommendations is recognizing -- and reducing -- America's weight problem by cutting calories and boosting physical activity with a total diet approach.

More Plant Foods

The guidelines call for people to focus on nutrient-rich, plant-based foods and beverages and cut back on other foods.

"It makes perfect sense to focus on the total diet because that is how we eat and a flexible approach that can work for everyone and also be enjoyable," says Eric Rimm, PhD, a member of the advisory committee that worked on the guidelines.

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) applauds the new guidelines and the total diet concept.

"For consumers, focusing on calorie balance, using a total diet or overall pattern of food a person eats, is an excellent approach and one that experience and science tell us has the greatest likelihood of success," says ADA President Judith Rodriguez, PhD, RD.

But not all plant-based foods carry the same weight. You're looking for those with the biggest nutritional bang per calorie.

"Don't misconstrue the message to eat more plant foods to mean more refined starch and sugars because even though they are plant foods, they are not necessarily healthy. Moving toward a more-plant based diet is beneficial if you replace solid fats, added sugars, and high animal fats with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, oils, and nuts," says Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, nutrition department chair of Harvard School of Public Health.

Manage Weight at All Ages

The heart of the guidelines is lifestyle changes and balancing calories for weight control. That can help everyone, including children ages 2 and older, who get special attention in the guidelines for the first time.

"There is an urgent need to focus on children because one in three kids is classified as overweight or obese -- [that] is a serious health concern," Rimm says.

The guidelines also now include people at increased risk for chronic disease.

Balancing Calories

The guidelines devote a chapter on how to manage your calorie budget and make wiser choices within that budget.

No food is off limits. But in order to manage weight, you need to stay within your calorie goals (found in the guidelines' appendices).

"Good nutrition is all about balance," Willett says. "Americans need to focus on total calories, but also carbohydrate quality, reducing sodium, and red meat."

The guidelines also recognize that our environment has contributed to the obesity epidemic -- and that all elements of society need to work together to turn the tide.

"Organizations, schools, industry, food producers, and policy makers all have a role in making these guidelines a reality for individuals," Rodriguez says.

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