Jan. 31, 2011 -- For the first time, new U.S. dietary guidelines do more than tell us what's good for us: They spell out how to avoid specific foods and lifestyle choices that make us fat and sick.
As a case in point, here's a phrase you'll be hearing a lot: Get off your SoFAS. In addition to getting more exercise, that means to avoid extra calories from Solid Fats and Added Sugars.
A third category of foods to avoid are refined grains. People who eat a lot of SoFAS also tend to eat a lot of these foods.
"We want to moveaway from our overreliance in the past on sugar and sodium and saturated fat," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said at a joint USDA/HHS news conference held to announce the new dietary guidelines.
But that's not all. The new guidelines come with an eye-popping pie chart of the American diet -- pointing out the foods from which Americans are getting most of their solid fats, added sugars, and refined grains.
A quick look at the pie charts suggest that one particular kind of pie -- pizza -- is a major source of the food types Americans are advised to avoid.
It's clear that Americans get too much sodium, and the new guidelines endorse cutting back to 1,500 mg per day for people over age 51, African-Americans, and people with high blood pressure. That's more than half of all Americans. The rest of us are advised to cut back to less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
Most of this sodium comes from processed foods and not from our salt shakers. Vilsack said the USDA will pressure food companies to help us meet the new guidelines.
"This is obviously a significant reduction that’s being proposed and one that we hope that food processors will take into account," Vilsack said.
For the first time, the new dietary guidelines address the environmental factors -- such as neighborhoods crammed with fast food restaurants -- that are a major part of the obesity epidemic.
There's also some practical advice, including how to avoid breaking your diet when going to a party.
Every five years, the USDA and HHS update the dietary guidelines that form the basis of U.S. nutritional policy. The new 2010 guidelines, more than ever before, focus on scientific evidence as distilled from last summer's advice from an expert advisory panel.
The new dietary guidelines focus on two major themes:
- watching calories to achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- tipping the balance of calorie intake: More calories from nutrition-rich foods, fewer calories from solid fats, sugars, and refined grains
There's also a focus on getting children to adopt healthy lifestyles.
"The focus on kids is critically important in stemming the tide of the obesity epidemic," says WebMD nutrition director Kathleen Zelman, RD. "Don't be overwhelmed by the changes your child needs. Just keep making small changes that you all can live with as a family. The guidelines should be your goal -- work toward them gradually.
New Dietary Guidelines
So what should the new American diet look like? The new guidelines suggest:
- Eat more seafood -- at least 8 ounces a week
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Substitute healthy oils for solid fats (such as margarine)
- Lower your sodium intake
- Avoid fast foods
- Exercise more
- Read food labels
- Substitute whole grains for refined grains
- Eat more beans and peas
- Get plenty of fiber, potassium, and vitamin D
- Eat/drink more nonfat or low-fat dairy products
- Replace high-fat meats with lean meats
- For some Americans, drink less alcohol
- Get off your SoFAS
"With these dietary guidelines we’re putting the best information in people's hands," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said at the news conference.
For now, the hard-to-understand food pyramid stays. But look for changes this spring, when the USDA and HHS plan a massive campaign to sell the new dietary guidelines to all Americans.
"We know what to eat," Zelman says. "But the new dietary guidelines will help consumers understand how to substitute healthier foods for less healthy foods and to put together more nutrient-rich meals and snacks."
What shouldn't we eat? The new guidelines point to specific sources of SoFAS and refined grains.
Dietary Guidelines: Worst Foods for Solid Fats
Solid fats make up almost a fifth of the total calories in American diets. They are a major factor behind the obesity epidemic.
The 10 foods that give us the most solid fats (and the percentage of solid fats from each food):
- Grain-based desserts (10.8%)
- Pizza (9.1%)
- Regular cheese (7.6%)
- Sausage, franks, bacon, and ribs (7.1%)
- French fries (4.8%)
- Dairy desserts (4.7%)
- Tortillas, burritos, and tacos (4.6%)
- Chicken and mixed chicken dishes (4.1%)
- Pasta and pasta dishes (3.9%)
- Whole milk (3.9%, just ahead of burgers at 3.8%)
Dietary Guidelines: Worst Foods for Saturated Fat
The 10 foods from which Americans get most of their saturated fat (and the percentages of saturated fats from each food):
- Regular cheese (8.5%)
- Pizza (5.9%)
- Grain-based desserts (5.8%)
- Dairy desserts (5.6%)
- Chicken and chicken mixed dishes (5.5%)
- Sausage, franks, bacon, and ribs (4.9%)
- Burgers (4.4%)
- Tortillas, burritos, and tacos (4.1%)
- Beef and beef mixed dishes (4.1%)
- Reduced-fat milk (3.9%)
Dietary Guidelines: Worst Foods for Added Sugars
Added sugars make up 16% of the total calories in American diets. Like solid fats, they're a major factor in obesity. Far atop the list are sugary beverages.
The 10 foods from which Americans get most of their added sugars (and the percentage of total added sugars from each food):
- Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks (35.7%)
- Grain-based desserts (12.9%)
- Fruit drinks (10.5%)
- Dairy desserts (6.5%)
- Candy (6.1%)
- Ready-to-eat cereals (3.8%)
- Sugars and honey (3.5%)
- Tea (3.5%)
- Yeast breads (2.1%)
- All other foods (15.4%)
Dietary Guidelines: Best Foods for Fiber
The new dietary guidelines say we should get more fiber in our diets.
The guidelines' top 10 selected sources of dietary fiber (and the amount of fiber per serving):
- Beans -- navy, pinto, black, kidney, white, great northern, and lima (6.2 to 9.6 grams)
- 100% Bran ready-to-eat cereal (9.1 grams)
- Split peas, lentils, chickpeas, or cowpeas (5.6 to 8.1 grams)
- Artichokes (7.2 grams)
- Pears (5.5 grams)
- Soybeans (5.2 grams)
- Plain rye wafer crackers (5.0 grams)
- Bran ready-to-eat cereals -- various types (2.6 to 5.0 grams)
- Asian pears (4.4 grams)
- Green peas (3.5 to 4.4 grams)
Dietary Guidelines: Best Foods for Potassium
The new dietary guidelines say we should get more potassium in our diets.
The guidelines' top 10 selected sources of dietary potassium (and amount of potassium in a standard portion):
- Baked potatoes including the skin (738 mg)
- Prune juice, canned (707 mg)
- Carrot juice, canned (689 mg)
- Tomato paste (664 mg)
- Beet greens, cooked (654 mg)
- White beans, canned (595 mg)
- Tomato juice, canned (556 mg)
- Plain yogurt, nonfat or low fat (531 to 579 mg)
- Tomato puree (549 mg)
- Sweet potato, baked in skin (542 mg)
Dietary Guidelines: Best Foods for Calcium
The new dietary guidelines advise Americans to get more calcium in their diets.
- Fortified ready-to-eat cereals (250 mg to 1,000 mg)
- Orange juice fortified with calcium (500 mg)
- Plain yogurt, nonfat (452 mg)
- Romano cheese (452 mg)
- Pasteurized processed Swiss cheese (438 mg)
- Evaporated milk, nonfat (371 mg)
- Tofu, regular, preserved with calcium sulfate (434 mg)
- Plain yogurt, low fat (415 mg)
- Fruit yogurt, low fat (345 mg)
- Ricotta cheese, part skim (337 mg)
Dietary Guidelines: Best Foods for Vitamin D
The new dietary guidelines advise Americans to get more vitamin D in their diets.
The guidelines' top 10 selected dietary sources of vitamin D (and the amount of vitamin D in a standard portion):
- Salmon, sockeye, cooked (19.8 mcg)
- Salmon, smoked (14.5 mcg)
- Salmon, canned (11.6 mcg)
- Rockfish, cooked (6.5 mcg)
- Tuna, light, canned in oil, drained (5.7 mcg)
- Orange juice, vitamin D fortified (3.4 mcg)
- Sardines, canned in oil, drained (4.1 mcg)
- Tuna, light, canned in water, drained (3.8 mcg)
- Whole milk (3.2 mcg)
- Whole chocolate milk (3.2 mcg)
Dietary Guidelines: Related Reading
For more information on the dietary guidelines:
- Nutrition Experts React
- Read the Dietary Guidelines
- 17 Kid-Friendly Breakfasts
- 19 Healthy Snacks for Kids
- WebMD Food & Fitness Planner
-- WebMD Washington D.C. correspondent Todd Zwillich contributed to this report.