Since 1980, the Dietary Guidelines have helped millions of Americans eat healthier. Updated every 5 years, the guidelines are packed with nutritional advice based on sound scientific data.
Want to know how they can help you? Here are 4 key takeaways from the latest edition.
Focus on a healthy eating pattern
In the most recent guidelines, experts encourage Americans to shift or stick with a healthy eating pattern. That refers to all the foods and beverages you consume over your lifetime. It’s not a rigid set of rules. You can adopt it for your lifestyle, culture, or budget. And it doesn’t simply mean filling up your plate with items from various food groups. Rather, it’s a way of looking at how your health can benefit from all that you eat and drink.
Along with regular physical activity, a healthy eating pattern can help you fend off diseases, such as cancer and diabetes. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight. So what does such a pattern entail? Keep these foods in mind:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables
- Grains, especially the unrefined kind
- Low-fat dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Lots of different proteins, like fish, lean meats, nuts, and beans
- Healthy oils, such as olive oil
Shun added sugars
As part of a healthy eating pattern, experts want you to limit added sugars. These sugars are put into food items during processing or preparation. The sweetener comes in many forms—some familiar, some not. Added sugars include honey, corn syrup, fructose, molasses, maltose—to name a few.
The nutrition facts label can help you see how much sugar is in a food product. A good goal is to keep added sugars to less than 10% of the calories you consume. Start by limiting the following foods:
- Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, coffee, and fruit drinks
- Baked goods, such as cookies, cakes, and pastries
- Packaged fruit products, such as applesauce or jelly
Skip the sodium
As with sugar, a healthy eating pattern limits sodium. Why? Too much sodium has been linked to health problems like high blood pressure.
Not adding table salt to your entrée is one way to cut back. But most of the sodium you eat hides in processed and prepared foods. So choose foods lower in this mineral. Some foods to skip include:
- Bottled salad dressings and seasonings
- Prepackaged food items, such as pasta and rice dishes
- Canned soups
Choose fats wisely
The latest dietary guidelines speak out against saturated and trans fats. It’s not a new stance. Ongoing research suggests these fats may harm heart health. Checking the nutrition facts label can tell you whether a food item is filled with these fats. In general, look to limit:
- Butter, margarine, and shortening
- Fatty and processed meats, like hot dogs
- Whole milk and other high-fat dairy products
- Hydrogenated oils, often found in baked goods and other desserts
Unsaturated fats are much better for you. These can be found in plant products and fish. One of the healthiest sources is olive oil.