Feeling daunted by some of eating goals included in the latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines? Aside from urging Americans to engage in 30 to 90 minutes of physical activity on most days, the document also includes 41 eating recommendations and weighed in at 71 pages.
Well, grab a baby carrot and curl up in a comfortable chair. Or on a stationary bike. We'll tell you how to apply the new guidelines to your daily life.
Mealtime, the guidelines way: Fill half the plate with fruits and vegetables. Serve up a healthy portion of unsweetened whole grains. Exercise portion control with meat. Sip eight ounces of skim milk. Enjoy.
(National Cancer Institute Five-a-day Program)
The good news: Adhere to the latest recommendations, and odds are there will be more food to sink your teeth into. This set of guidelines highlights "food groups to encourage," which means that it offers healthful foods to eat more of rather than less of. Eat more of the good stuff and you're likely to crowd out a lot of the foods you should eat less of.
At the top of the go-to list: fruit and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. While the government has long urged people to eat more of these foods, the latest guidelines codify that advice. So adults who eat about 2,000 calories per day are advised to:
Consume two cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables daily. At first bite, that may sound like a lot. But there's been a shift in the guidelines from servings to cups; the thinking is that people can visualize a cup of broccoli more easily than a "serving." Easiest way to achieve this goal: Make fruit and vegetables half of what is consumed at each meal. So add fruit at breakfast and a hearty salad at lunch. Nibble slices of fresh sweet peppers, carrots, celery or diced fruit for snacks. Add a side of broccoli and a sweet potato at dinner, and you'll likely meet the goal. And go for variety. The fine print of the guidelines says to consume a rainbow of colors: dark green leafy greens, oranges, bright red tomatoes, bananas, purple cabbage and blueberries.
Eat three one-ounce portions of whole grains. That's half the recommended amount of grains. Choose whole, unsweetened grains where possible, including oatmeal or such cold cereals as shredded wheat, Total, Grape Nuts, raisin bran and Cheerios; rye, pumperknickel or other whole-grain bread; whole-wheat couscous, brown rice or wild rice. Popcorn, Triscuits and graham crackers are simple whole-grain options. So are flatbreads, granola and other cereal bars.
Drink three cups of skim or low-fat milk. Sip an eight-ounce glass of skim milk with every meal to meet the goal. Or choose other equivalent options: A cup of low-fat or nonfat yogurt equals a glass of skim milk. So does 1 1/2 ounces of low-fat cheese (such as Swiss, Gouda or Roquefort) or two ounces of low-fat or fat-free processed cheese, such as American or Laughing Cow. Have string cheese as a snack.
Eat 5 1/2 ounces of poultry, lean meat, fish, beans or nuts. This one's easy to meet because most people eat far more -- but it's troublesome for the same reason. Portion control is key for remaining within daily calorie limits. Toss two ounces of lean meat, skinless poultry or fish on your chef's salad at lunch and have a four-ounce serving (about the size of your palm) of chicken, lean meat or fish at dinner. Other options that equal the protein found in about an ounce of meat, fish or poultry: an egg; a quarter-cup of cooked beans; a tablespoon of peanut butter; a half-ounce of nuts or seeds; and a quarter-cup of tofu.
Slather, pour or spread six teaspoons of oil. Just make them healthful oils, such as olive, canola and safflower. By the way, each teaspoon of liquid oil is equal in fat to a teaspoon of tub margarine, a tablespoon of mayonnaise or two tablespoons of light salad dressing.
Limit saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fatty acids and salt. Here's the bad news if you're used to filling up on fried food, greasy burgers, pizza and processed foods like chips, crackers, cookies and commercial baked goods. A healthy fat intake is about 20 to 35 percent of daily calories from fat, the guidelines note. Keep saturated fat -- such as that found in whole milk, butter, cream or fatty cuts of meat -- to less than 10 percent of calories. To avoid doing the math, know that on a 2,000-calorie diet, that's about the saturated fat found in a double bacon cheeseburger and a small fries. The goal for cholesterol is 300 milligrams per day -- about the amount found in one egg yolk. Keep trans fatty acids as low as possible. (Those are the unhealthful fats listed as partially hydrogenated fat on food labels and are often found in baked goods, stick margarine and many processed foods. )
If your blood pressure is at healthy levels, eat 2,300 milligrams or less of sodium daily -- about the amount found in a two cups of canned soup and a bag of chips. If you have high blood pressure, limit sodium to 1,500 milligrams daily, equal to about a cup and a half of canned soup.
And if you follow all these steps, there may be some calories left for splurges. How many? About 267 calories on 2,000 calories daily, although the guidelines note that people "trying to lose weight may choose not to use discretionary calories."
And for the rest of us? Well, those calories give a little wiggle room for a glass of wine, a cookie or two, a soft drink, an extra handful of nuts, maybe even an ice cream cone to celebrate a healthier life.
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