Another Half Decade Come and Gone
Many people aren’t aware, but every five years, the USDA revises their dietary guidelines for the American public and it couldn’t have come at a more critical time. Considering the childhood obesity epidemic and the current lifestyles many of us lead, the average person barely has the time and discipline to maintain a healthy weight and body mass index.
Because of this, the Child Nutrition Act and Let’s Move campaigns were created, causing people to begin being mindful of what they eat. However, since the fight for health is a steep uphill battle, the USDA has made some new suggestions to fit in with the average American’s schedule. Although there are people out there that will most likely ignore nutrition altogether, the rest of you should take heed if you want to live to see your grandkids, let alone the next generation grow into healthier adults.
Based on the most updated research, the USDA has based the guidelines over two particular concepts that emerged over these new recommendations.
Maintain Calorie Balance to Achieve and Sustain a Healthy Weight
If you’ve had any experience in trying to lose or gain weight, you’re most likely familiar with the calorie equation (calories in – calories out = weight gain/loss).
For most of us, that equation usually ends up being the psychological killer of dieting. After all, you can spend 30 minutes at a gym to burn off 300 calories and end up consuming that same amount or more within a period of ten seconds.
The USDA recommends that to lower the obesity rate and improve the nation’s overall health, Americans need to cut back on the total calories consumed (i.e. eating nutrient-dense foods) and increase the calories burned through physical activity (i.e. keep moving).
Easier said than done, right? The suggestions of using the stairs instead of an elevator or to stop drinking sodas are steps in the right direction.
However, that’s only the beginning. Considering that obesity has tripled over the years, if you’re already overweight, chances are that you’ll have a hard time incorporating healthier options into your lifestyle.
Many factors determine your calorie intake range, including your age, gender, body fat composition, genetics and daily physical activity. The “average” adolescent and adult should maintain a 2,000-2,500 calorie limit for females and males respectively. Children usually need more due to their higher metabolic, or calorie burning capability, rate.
At the same time, you don’t want to starve yourself either.
Think of your body as an organic piece of technology. For it to run, it needs fuel. If you don’t get enough, the systems malfunction and you end up with more problems than you began. Not to mention the fact that if you try to exercise on empty, your body begins to burn through your lean muscle, NOT your fat storage.
The opposite is true. If you overload your body with more fuel than it needs, the system begins storing the excess as fat tissue, hence the obesity epidemic.
Focus on nutrient-dense foods and beverages
All of these calories can be broken down into what are called “macronutrients” or “nutrients your body needs to survive;” these macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Carbohydrates tend to make up most of the calories within food. There are two types of carbs: simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates are natural and unprocessed, such as the lactose in milk, fructose in fruit or the fiber and starches in grains and vegetables.
Complex carbs are the added artificial ingredients such as table sugar and the infamously popular high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Most people get enough carbohydrates as is, but the problem is that they tend to overconsume them with the unnecessary added sugars within the foods they eat.
The USDA makes it clear that these added ingredients should be cut back on. Instead, try fulfilling your diet with fiber from fruits and vegetables or 100% whole wheat breads.
Reduce your sodium intake as well. Both added sugars and sodium tend to hinder your body’s ability to burn off fat as energy.
Proteins are essential to a healthy diet, but it’s rare that someone would have a deficiency. This is due to the animal-based proteins in meat, poultry, eggs and milk and the plant-based proteins in beans, peas, nuts, seeds and soy products.
In fact, proteins are necessary for rebuilding muscle fibers that are constantly being worked out. In other words, they increase a body’s healing factor.
If you take part in aerobic activity, your body will start drawing on protein stores for energy and diminish the burning of body fat. This is why you need enough protein to keep your body from eating up lean muscle. If you don’t take part in physical activity, the protein is still important, but won’t be doing you much good other than maintaining muscle.
Fats are also necessary because your body still uses it for chemical reactions. Unfortunately, this is also one of the main concerns of the general public. The USDA guidelines make it clear that fat itself isn’t the cause; it’s the types of fat that people should be concerned about.
Saturated fat is bad. It has no benefits in a healthy diet whatsoever. Cut back on those as much as possible. They’re mainly used in those thick, creamy sauces you use to give foods a cheesy, salty or velvety texture.
Mono and polyunsaturated fats are good. These occur naturally in nuts, but only the unprocessed ones.
Trans fat is the worst. Even though the USDA guidelines state that they should be consumed sparingly (2 grams maximum daily), you’d be better off avoiding it as much as possible. The problem is that even if it makes food companies happy due to cheaper processing costs, there’s nothing beneficial coming from trans fat. Its sole purpose is to clog your arteries.
Due to the FDA loophole of not claiming trans fat if there’s under 0.5 g, DON’T rely on the Nutritional Label for this statistic. Read the Ingredients List. If you see any form of the words “Hydrogenated Oil,” there’s trans fat lurking within. Not being upfront about that ingredient should question your loyalty to that brand.
The USDA guidelines also state that alcohol should be consumed sparingly, if at all. They rarely provide nutrients and end up being a source of empty calories (Hence the term “beer gut”).
USDA Guidelines Summary
To control the total calorie intake and manage body weight, increase your intake of 100% whole grains, vegetables and fruit. They take up space in your stomach with natural dietary fiber and keep you full longer. Plus, they give your body the nutrients necessary for your body to function.
Reduce your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages. They provide additional calories with no nutritional benefits. Diet sodas don’t count as they still train the tongue to crave additional sugars in other foods. For best results, try the magical all-natural, weight-loss potion of water sweetened with organic fruits such as lime or apple slices.
Monitor the intake of 100% fruit juice for children and adolescents, especially those who are overweight or obese. Although there is nothing wrong with 100% juice, make sure that the juice has at least the highest volume by checking the Ingredients List which is ordered by greatest to least. It wouldn’t do much good if a product that claims 100% cranberry “juice” ends up being made with a majority of other “juices” that were added to make processing cheaper, leaving cranberries as a secondary ingredient.
Monitor calorie intake from alcoholic beverages for adults. Moderate drinking isn’t associated with weight gain, but heavy consumption is. One example is that drinking two glasses of wine has nutritional benefits, but any more than that reverse those benefits. Since alcohol tends to be consumed in mixtures with other drinks, they add extra calories with no nutritional benefits. Cut back on the alcohol and you cut back on the calories.
The USDA guidelines have more in-depth information, but the above is the main message that they want to get out to the American public. Obesity is a problem and unless people begin to take care of not only their bodies but their offspring’s, the life expectancy will keep dropping and the premature deaths will keep climbing.
Find the balance. Our future depends on it.
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