Americans Get Diet Road Map to Health

New U.S. Diet Guidelines Based on Common Sense, Science

From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 12, 2005 -- You can be healthier and happier. That's a promise from outgoing U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

Thompson's promise is based on new diet guidelines announced today by HHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The guidelines stress eating healthy fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products; limiting saturated fats, sugar, alcohol, and salt; and getting plenty of exercise.

"The guidelines are a combination of good science and common sense," Thompson said today in a news conference. "They are a prescription we can write for ourselves, fill for ourselves, and be healthier and happier for it. Our best medicines are no farther away than the shelves of the grocery and the sidewalks outside our doors."

What's new about the guidelines? The number of recommended servings of fruits and vegetables is up to nine servings from five. Warnings to eat less salt -- most of which comes from processed foods -- and warnings against trans fat, also called hydrogenated fat, such as shortening and margarine, are stronger than ever before. There's more emphasis on whole grains, and we're told that there's very little room in our diets for extra sugars -- for most of us, less sugar than in a single soft drink. And low-fat dairy has been increased from two to three servings per day, to three servings per day.

Gone also, at least for now, is the familiar food pyramid. The USDA is debating whether to toss out the old pyramid design, USDA Secretary Ann Veneman said in today's news conference. But she notes that the guidelines still will look very familiar.

"Today we announced dietary guidelines that have additional science incorporated into them," she said. "But the guidelines aren't significantly different from past guidelines, in terms of recommending a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, dairy, and whole grains."

So will Americans change their overweight ways? Ironically, our preoccupation with fad diets may be a hopeful sign.

"All these diet books have become best-sellers," Veneman said. "People are reaching out for information. We have had the food pyramid, we have had all these guidelines, yet still we see obesity. But I believe people are looking more and more at what it takes to lead a healthy lifestyle."

What Americans want most of all, Thompson acknowledges, is a pill that will make their fat disappear.

"Every American is looking for the National Institutes of Health to come up with that pill. It is not going to happen," Thompson said. "Do you want to look better? Yes. Do you want to feel better? Yes. So you lower your fats, your carbs; you eat more fruits and vegetables, and you exercise. That is not too hard."

The time to start? Right now.

"Tonight, everybody just eat half your dessert and then walk around the block," Thomson said. "If you watch TV, get down and do 10 pushups. Later, you'll find you can do 20. It is not the pill. There is not going to be a pill. There is a lot of information in these guidelines, but it comes down to eat your fruits and vegetables, lower your calorie intake, and exercise."

New Diet Guidelines: A Recipe for Weight Loss and Health

It's not just hype. The new guidelines really do represent the government's best, science-based efforts. They tell us nearly all we need to know about staying healthy, avoiding weight gain, and losing excess weight.

Here's an overview. A handy printout-friendly consumer summary -- as well as the entire Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 -- can be found on the HHS web site.

The guidelines are based on a person needing 2,000 calories a day. To find out how many calories you burn each day, use the WebMD Metabolism Calculator.

Here are the basic recommendations:

1. Learn how to read food labels:

  • Pay close attention to how many servings you're eating
  • Check the calories in each serving
  • Check the "% Daily Value" of each ingredient

2. To get your daily calorie allotment, eat good foods. Don't focus on just one kind of food, or consistently avoid any nutritious kind of food. Foods, which should be limited, include:

  • Saturated and trans fats
  • Cholesterol
  • Added sugars
  • Alcohol. If you do use alcohol, limit consumption of these "empty" calories to one daily drink for women, and no more than two daily drinks for men. A drink is one 12-ounce beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or one drink of 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits. Empty calories are those foods that add little, if any, nutritional value to your diet; they can leave you hungry.

3. To keep your weight the same, don't eat or drink more calories than you burn. Maintain a balance of calories -- what you eat to those you burn. To lose weight over time, eat a little less -- and exercise a little more -- every day.

4. Get regular exercise. It's good for your body and good for your mind:

  • Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
  • For maximum benefit, most people can get vigorous or longer-duration exercise.
  • To lose weight, get about 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous exercise most days of the week. Don't offset this by eating more.
  • To keep weight off, get 60 to 90 minutes of moderate-intensity physical exercise most days. Examples include exercises such as walking briskly, swimming recreationally, or bicycling 5-9 mph on level terrain.

5. Recommended foods:

  • Get 2 cups of fruit every day
  • Get 2.5 cups of vegetables every day
  • Eat a variety of vegetables
  • Get 3 ounces or more of whole-grain foods every day
  • Get 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat dairy foods every day

6. Avoid fats:

  • Fewer than 10% of your calories should come from saturated fats.
  • Keep cholesterol consumption below 300 milligrams per day.
  • Avoid trans fats as much as you possibly can.
  • The fats you do eat should mostly come from fish, nuts, and vegetable oils. Keep total fats between 20% to 35% of your total calories.

7. Carbs aren't all bad. You should:

  • Choose fiber-rich fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
  • Choose foods with as little added sugars or sweeteners as possible.
  • Avoid sugary and starchy foods and beverages.

8. Avoid salt, increase potassium:

  • Get less than 1 teaspoon of salt a day. Note: Most of the salt we eat comes from processed foods.
  • Eat lots of potassium-rich fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, prunes, raisins, or potatoes with skins.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Tommy G. Thompson, secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, news conference, Jan. 12, 2005. Ann M. Veneman, secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture, news conference, Jan. 12, 2005. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, U.S. HHS/USDA, Jan. 12, 2005. Finding Your Way to a Healthier You, U.S. HHS/USDA, Jan. 12, 2005. News release, HHS/USDA.

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