We can all be healthy, promise the new U.S. diet guidelines. Or can we?
Your father's dinner plate featured a meat or fish entree. Vegetables were
side items: something starchy, and something green -- both, like the white
dinner rolls, slathered with butter. Maybe there was a salad for starters.
Almost certainly there was a dessert.
You walk into Home Depot or Lowe's to pick up a lightbulb. Instead, you
leave with some new flooring, a circular saw, a framing square, and big ideas
about re-tiling your kitchen.
The problem? You've never done anything more than change a lightbulb by
Growing numbers of Americans are tackling do-it-yourself home improvement
projects that once might have been left to professionals. One reason for the
shift: Stores like Home Depot, along with TV shows on networks like HGTV or the
If this is what your dinner plate looks like, the U.S. health and
agriculture departments now say, forget about it. The plate should be alive
with colorful vegetables such as purple eggplant, dark green kale, and bright
orange winter squash - all without butter. If there's any meat at all on the
plate, it will be no more than three lean ounces of beef, chicken, or
That's not all. You'll need five servings of vegetables, four servings of
fruit, three cups of low-fat dairy foods, and 6 ounces of whole
grains every single day. Cut back on salt.
Eat only healthy oils and no bad fats. Stay away from sweets and
sugar-added beverages. Drink
very little or no alcohol. Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. Or
better still, exercise for 60 to 90 minutes daily.
We all need to eat better. But this is just not a reasonable target, says
nutritionist Annette Dickinson, PhD, president of the Council for Responsible
Nutrition, a trade association of dietary
"I think there is a risk of these guidelines setting people up for
failure," Dickinson tells WebMD. "We know that people already aren't
doing what the last guidelines said. Yet these are more stringent. It is good
to have a goal to shoot for. But this is just not a real-life
Don't Let It Scare You
Arguably, few have done more to change the American diet than Mark Bittman,
author of the weekly New York Times cooking column "The
Minimalist." Bittman's best-selling 1998 How to Cook Everything
toned down the buttery rich recipes of James Beard and Julia Childs. His claim
to fame - soon to be demonstrated in a new PBS series in which famous U.S.
chefs will challenge him to make simpler versions of their signature dishes -
is that modern times call for lower-fat, simpler recipes.
Yet Bittman is wary of the new guidelines. He says there's little doubt they
are a recipe for health. It's just not a very appealing recipe.
"I couldn't follow those guidelines," Bittman tells WebMD. "I
look at these guidelines and I am going to adapt to as many of them as I can.
But am I going to let this stuff scare me and run my life? Not unless I have
Bittman says that it would take a heart
attack to motivate some people to change their diet. That's altogether too
true, says Roger S. Blumenthal, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone
Preventive Cardiology Center and co-author of the Betty Crocker Healthy
disease and stroke
don't just appear on the day a person has a disabling attack. People have to
realize that you may not get a warning. Your first symptom may not be a mild
heart attack --it may be a disabling stroke, the thing everybody fears,"
Blumenthal tells WebMD. "The cornerstone of prevention is better diet and
exercise. One's eating habits when one is younger play a role, so what we eat
influences our children's
health for the rest of their lives. We need to be more aware of this. And
that it's never too late to start a heart-healthy diet."