Katie Bark, registered dietitian and member of the Montana Office of Public Instruction Team Nutrition housed at Montana State University, says most of the guidelines can be encompassed in one over-arching visual: a rainbow of foods balanced by a variety of physical activities. She will be helping Montana schools adapt nutrition programs to reflect guidelines the USDA announced Jan. 12.
To implement the guidelines when you shop, says Bark, just put all the colors of the rainbow into your cart. You might have tomatoes, oranges, and green spinach beside brown bread, white cheese, pink fish and red meat. "And make sure to include physical activity in your day, like going out for a brisk walk at lunch or maybe following the moves on an exercise video for half an hour or more," Bark stresses.
The changes in the dietary guidelines are important, but will look familiar, too, Bark says. To the familiar admonition to increase intake of fruits and vegetables, the new guidelines add more specifics. For instance, the guidelines recommend three ounces or more of whole grains rather than simply "bread, cereal, rice and pasta," and specify three cups of low-fat or fat-free dairy products rather than the previous "milk, yogurt and cheese" category. (Low-fat is one-percent milk.) The guidelines also point out the need to pay attention to fats and look for foods low in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol.
The new guidelines put sugars under the carbohydrate category. "Starch is just a long chain of sugars, so the two logically go together," she says. Basically, the guidelines say to choose fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limit foods and beverages with added sugars. By suggesting fiber-rich whole grains, the guidelines point to the advantages whole grains have over starchy foods made with refined flour.
The fiber of whole grains fills people up with more moderate portions, Bark says. Our digestive system breaks down whole grains into sugar more slowly than it does refined grains or sugar. The slow release into the blood stream helps keep energy levels on a more even keel, which is especially important for diabetics and people who are either trying to maintain or lose weight.
The new guidelines encourage Americans to reduce added fats and sugars, because in general, we've all gained weight over recent decades.
"Forty percent of a typical child's calories are coming from added fat and sugar," Bark says. Typically, we consume added fats in products like salad dressings, fried foods, butter or margarine. Added sugars aren't just found in desserts, but can be found in many products, from the high fructose corn syrup in many peanut butters to the sugars in sweetened beverages. "It's difficult to balance energy needs with food intake if we consume too many products with added fat and sugar," she adds.
In short, Bark says, "Calories count. You need to get the most nutrition out of your calories so you can balance the calories with your physical activity."
The new guidelines also may give guidance to Montana agricultural producers who are looking for a value-added niche, says Lynn Paul, a registered dietician and MSU's Extension nutrition specialist.
"Montana's high quality whole grains fit right into the guidelines," says Paul. "Moderately sized portions of lean meat can fit into a good nutrition profile, as long as the need for omega-3 oils is also met."
The guidelines will be the basis for programs for school lunches, senior citizen centers, federal programs such as Women, Infants and Children, as well as for the reformulation of many commercial products. Already a major cereal manufacturer has announced that it will use only whole grains in its cereals.
Paul adds that though people can be frustrated because recommendations change, "the positive side of that is that we are learning quite a bit about what the best nutrition is for health."
The guidelines for the general population fall into nine areas: adequate nutrients within calorie needs, weight management, physical activity, food groups to encourage, fats, carbohydrates, sodium and potassium, alcoholic beverages and food safety. The guidelines will be followed in a few months by the release of the USDA Food Guidance System. For more information, the public can access the government web site: http://www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines/
Contact: Katie Bark (406) 994-5641, Lynn Paul (406) 994-5702