Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Every few years the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) work together to publish the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This 144-page document is full of medically and scientifically sound information discussing how you can keep yourself and your family healthy. To keep it simple, this document is broken down into 5 main guidelines that anyone can follow:

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
  4. Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
  5. Support healthy eating patterns for all. Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.

The Dietary Guideline also gives some key recommendations to kick-start your healthy eating pattern.

A healthy eating pattern includes:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils

A healthy eating pattern limits:

  • Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium

Key Recommendations that are quantitative are provided for several components of the diet that should be limited. These components are of particular public health concern in the United States, and the specified limits can help individuals achieve healthy eating patterns within calorie limits:

  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats
  • Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age.

In tandem with the recommendations above, Americans of all ages should meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans to help promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. Americans should aim to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. The relationship between diet and physical activity contributes to calorie balance and managing body weight.

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Who Should Take Supplements?

A common question I receive is “should I take this supplement?” A lot of people want to believe that supplements alone will allow them to achieve their fitness and health goals. My full opinion of supplements can be found in the supplements chapter of 2 Weeks to Health First Edition which is available for free here. But in summary, no supplement can fix an ongoing pattern of poor nutrition and exercise choices.

Taking supplements will not make up for a diet that lacks in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meats, and plenty of water. Also, no protein or creatine supplements will create muscle on their own without completing the adequate exercise. While supplements certainly have their place, I recommend to most of my clients to lay off the supplements and focus on getting their nutrition from real foods. However, there are times when people need to supplement in order to stay healthy.

Who for sure needs vitamin and mineral supplements? A pregnant or breastfeeding woman, a woman able to become pregnant, someone on a restrictive diet (vegetarian, vegan, cultural), someone with limited milk and sunlight exposure, someone with a diagnosed health condition that affects the body such as anemia, elderly adults, and someone who is unable or unwilling to consume a healthy diet (food intolerances or allergies). If you fall into one or multiple of these categories, talk to your doctor or dietitian about which supplements you may want to take. I do not recommend you take any supplements without first consulting a medical professional. For conditions such as these, neither myself nor any other personal trainer is qualified to prescribe these types of supplements for these conditions so it is important to see a doctor.

What is the worst that can happen if you take supplements without a doctor’s approval? Many prescription drugs as well as supplements are plant-based and may react with one another. It is not uncommon for someone to experience side effects after mixing certain supplements and medications. Always ensure your doctor is informed about what you are taking and they give you their approval. And if you aren’t required to take supplements from your doctor, focus on getting your nutrition from real food and use the money you saved from not purchasing expensive supplements on a gym membership.

 

Fruits and Vegetables

Low Carb Diet vs. High Starch Diet: Which One is Better? The Answer May Not be so Obvious

Probably the most confusing part of nutrition is just trying to figure out how to eat healthily. This is difficult because you have doctors, trainers, and nutritionists who all say different things, which just confuses all of us, including myself.

Just for fun, I asked the general public using Quora what the pros and cons of high starch (high-carb) diets are. Generally, we accept that a low carbohydrate diet helps with weight loss, so I wanted to see what people thought about a high starch / high carb diet. The answers I received were very different from one another. One “advocate of low carb lifestyle” explained that a high starch diet is the cause of obesity, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, heart disease, and cancer, and these occur because of the lack of human adaptation to an agriculturally based diet. An athletic trainer commented saying there are absolutely no pros to a high starch diet and that the whole idea is a fraud. A food security consultant countered that viewpoint saying complex carbohydrates like what are found in starches are not the problem, simple carbohydrates such as sugar is the problem. There were a couple comments that I would consider to be the ‘voices of reason’ that explained the conditions of each diet, and how it depends on what you need individually. Then someone posted saying the only cons to a high starch diet are that “people love to eat what they have always eaten. You will be made fun of and ostracized by the ignorant…Eat starch be healthier and live better.” With only 12 answers to my question, I got a full spectrum of answers.

 

 

 

Here’s another good example of this spectrum of opinions. Both of these books were written by very intelligent doctors, and both books are highly rated best sellers. The difference is one book is telling you to eat zero grains to lose or maintain your weight, while the other book is saying you should eat predominately starches, which include grains, to lose or maintain your weight. So hold on a second, no wonder everyone is confused, these books are telling you to do two completely different things to lose weight.

It turns out there is a very simple reason why people have seen such great successes and such great failures with both diets. Losing weight is more of a factor of energy use and consumption rather than the kinds of foods you are eating. So 1000 calories of starches are pretty much the same as 1000 calories of beef in the context of weight loss. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other health benefits besides just weight loss. The general consensus believes that a plant based diet is healthier than a diet based on animal products. That should mean a starch based vegan diet like what is described in the book The Starch Solution should be healthier than a no-grain diet as described in The No-Grain Diet. Nonetheless, people are living healthy lives on both of these diets. How are both of these polar opposite diets allowing us to stay healthy?

I believe the answer is simple, both diets allow you to eat fruits and vegetables and encourage a vast majority of your calories to come from them. A typical meal on a high starch diet, according to the book, will consist of mostly fruits and vegetables with perhaps some dish with beans, corn, rice, and/or potatoes. A typical meal on the no grain diet, according to the book, will also consist of mostly fruits and vegetables but will also include a portion of meat. When eating a diet with a large focus on fruits and vegetables it’s hard to go wrong. Where people begin to see problems with their no-grain/low-carb or high-starch/high-carb diet is they will not base their diet on fruits and vegetables, but rather eat other foods that fall into their diet category. For example, someone may begin a low-carb diet and only eat beef, pork, and chicken with no other food groups.

Regardless of what diet you choose, if you want to be successful, start by filling your plate with the fruits and vegetables your diet allows.  The remaining calories you can fill with anything. The high carb high starch diet says to fill it with rice, pasta, and potatoes. The no grain diet says to fill it with meat and dairy. One or the other may fit you better, but both, when prioritizing fruits and vegetables, can help you lose weight and stay healthy. That is why both books, although contradictory to one another, are highly rated by the readers. There are many ways to reach your goals, so if one way doesn’t work for you, try another and you may be surprised that something you once believed to be the cause of weight gain can actually help you lose weight.

Does Vitamin C Cure the Common Cold?

Last time you had a cold, the chances are at some point you heard about the benefits of vitamin C and why you should take it to shorten a cold, but is this true? Can vitamin C really shorten a cold? To try to answer this question, let’s look at the science behind vitamin C.

Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is an essential vitamin that is not produced by your body, meaning you have to consume it through food and drinks. Vitamin C is required for your body to produce collagen, carnitine, catecholamines, and is an antioxidant. Collagen is an essential component of connective tissue, carnitine is required to transport fatty acids to the mitochondria, the cell’s energy source, and catecholamines are neurotransmitters that mediate a variety of your central nervous system functions. As an antioxidant vitamin C prevents reactive chemicals that contain oxygen from damaging other cells in your body. This may help prevent certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

Overall, vitamin C is important for your body to function efficiently. But going back to the initial question, how does it affect our immune systems? Vitamin C may improve the absorption of iron by up to 3 fold. Iron serves as an innate immune mechanism, meaning it protects your body from pathogens for short term periods. It will kill the pathogen but it will not give you immunity to the pathogen. So more vitamin C mean more iron, and more iron means more dead pathogens, but does this really result in a shorter cold?

A Cochrane Review in 2007 tested this theory with a sample of humans and had some interesting results. They discovered for the general population, taking vitamin C does not reduce your chances of getting a cold, unless you submit your body to extreme conditions such as marathon running or extremely cold environments. For the soldiers, skiers, and runners out there, taking a vitamin C supplement can reduce your chance of acquiring a cold by as much as 50%. For the average person, you reduce your chance by only 8%. The kicker is if you wait until you get a cold to start taking vitamin C, it will not help. If vitamin C was taken after the onset of the cold it did not shorten the cold’s duration or severity of symptoms.

If you are not submitting your body to extreme environments, and that 8% reduced chance of getting a cold sounds appealing, then supplement your current diet with about 400-500 mg of vitamin C per day. Also, if you believe you are not consuming at least 300 mg of vitamin C from your normal diet then you may at risk for scurvy, so add a supplement to your diet. Some common foods that are good sources of vitamin C are red pepper, green pepper, oranges, broccoli, strawberries, kiwis, and grapefruit. If you eat enough fruits and veggies, then you shouldn’t need to supplement vitamin C. However, the toxicity of vitamin C is so low that even high doses will leave you unharmed.

In summary, if you consistently get enough vitamin C, you may be able to reduce your chances of getting a cold. If you start taking vitamin C after you get a cold, it will not reduce the duration or the severity of the cold.

References:

How Knowledge is Power in Nutrition – Things Worth Sharing

In this diabetes centered TED talk by Dr. Wendy Pogozelski you will learn how even the experts in the medical field sometimes disagree. When it comes to nutrition, knowledge is power and it’s important to learn and know what works best for you. If you want to learn more about diabetes or learn about your overall glycemic load (how many carbs you can eat), then this talk is worth watching.

The DASH Diet: How to Lower Your Blood Pressure

What if I told you there is a dietary approach to stop hypertension, and that by watching what you eat you can potentially get off your high blood pressure medication? The DASH diet, or the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension, is exactly that. By following just a few dietary habits, you can put yourself on a path to lowering your blood pressure.

  1. Focus on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Eat 4-5 servings of both fruits and vegetables per day and 6-8 servings of whole grains. Eating 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy products is also encouraged on the DASH diet.
  2. Limit your sodium consumption to no more than 2300 mg per day. The average American will consume over 3500 mg of sodium per day. Bringing your sodium consumption down to 2300 mg (or even better, down to 1500 mg) per day will help lower your blood pressure. Always check the nutrition labels on your food. Foods that are perceived as healthy may have excessive sodium.
  3. Limit sweets to 5 servings per week. We all love desserts, but it’s good to limit the amount you eat to no more than one serving per day, but the less you eat the better you will feel.
  4. Limit alcohol consumption to no more than 2 drinks per day. Just like sweets, the less alcohol you drink the better off you will be to some extent. There are a few benefits to drinking alcohol in moderation which you can read about here.

I will often see people who are eating otherwise very healthy diets eating way too much sodium. Sometimes perceived healthy foods have far more sodium than we realize. For example, a chicken caesar wrap at a restaurant may have as much as 3500 mg of sodium, three times what you should be eating for an entire day. But if you manage to get your sodium down and you eat plenty of whole foods, then your blood pressure will begin to drop. To read more about the DASH diet, you can visit dashdiet.org.

You Won’t Believe what this Simple Nutritional Change will do for Your Health

food-no-difference
Both of these plates may look almost the same, but the plate on the right has 30% more calories, 50% more fat, and 850% more sodium. This shows us the importance of making good decisions about sauces, seasoning, and alternatives.

You have a dilemma. After a long day at work, you come home to discover the two plates shown on your table ready to eat. You would love to just dig in, but you also realize you’ve been watching your health and need to be careful about what you eat. Both plates look nearly identical. Each has 2 servings of meat, 2 servings of rice, 3 servings of vegetables, 1.5 servings of fruit, and a serving of dairy. But upon further inspection, you realize something is literally a bit salty about one of these dishes. You realize that the meal on the right has 30% more calories, 50% more fat, and 850% more sodium. You decide to eat the meal on the left. But how do two nearly identical meals have such different nutritional contents? Also, why should you care?

The differences between the two meals are as listed: pork vs chicken, light vs regular yogurt, not salted vs salted for taste, “reduced sodium” soy sauce vs no soy sauce, added sugar to sweeten the smoothie vs no added sugar, processed and packaged white rice vs whole brown rice, and boiled rice vs stir fried rice. If there is one thing I want you to learn from this article is that when it comes to food, there is always a “versus”. You always have options for adding an additional ingredient or substituting foods, and by substituting the right foods and using the right ingredients, the same meal can be significantly healthier for you. Let’s discuss each of these food showdowns.

Pork vs Chicken: Pork has about 25 more calories than chicken per serving, and about 3 times as much fat. By switching from pork or beer to fish or chicken, you can significantly decrease the amount of fat you are consuming.

Light vs Regular Yogurt: Both of the yogurts used in the two meals were very sweet, dessert tasting yogurts. However, the light yogurt had 90 calories per serving as opposed to 150 calories per serving, contained only 80 mg of sodium as opposed to 190 mg of sodium, and was fat-free compared to its counterpart which packed a couple grams of fat. Switching from normal to light yogurt is a good way to cut back on overall calories, fats, and sodium without eating less. We will discuss why you might want to do this later in this article.

Salted vs Not Salted for Taste: The meal on the right was lightly salted for taste. Just 1/4 teaspoons of salt contains 580 mg of sodium which is 25% of your recommended maximum daily sodium intake. A light salting of your food will more than likely skyrocket your sodium quota (and your blood pressure).

“Reduced Sodium” Soy Sauce vs No Soy Sauce: Many people enjoy eating their rice and vegetables with soy sauce and purchase a reduced sodium soy sauce thinking it is healthy. One tablespoon of reduced sodium soy sauce has 570 mg of sodium, almost as much as the 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Just two tablespoons spread out among your meal can put you at 50% of your daily max value for sodium.

Added Sugar to Sweeten the Smoothie vs No Added Sugar: When you go to a restaurant and order a smoothie, they will normally add simple syrup, a solution that is mostly just sugar and water. Most fruits already have enough natural sugars to make them sweet, so next time you make a smoothie at home, try making it with just fruit blended with water. This will help keep the calories down, and will still taste very good.

Processed and Packaged White Rice vs Whole Brown Rice: White rice is often fortified to have about the same benefits of brown rice, but the point to make here is if you take a food that you can but fresh and whole, and then package it, the company is almost always going to add sodium to increase the shelf life of that product. Choosing processed over whole foods will almost always increase your sodium intake.

Boiled Rice vs Stir Fried Rice: When you stir fry rice, you are adding additional oil, thus you are adding additional fat and calories into your diet. The extra oil in the right side meal saw a significant increase in calories just from the small amount of extra oil it took to stir-fry the rice. This doesn’t take into account any added ingredients that are usually added to rice such as egg and additional vegetables.

So why is increasing your calories, fat, and sodium bad for you? To keep it short, increased calories may lead to weight gain, increased fat may lead to heart disease, and increased sodium may lead to high blood pressure. By not eating an excessive amount of calories, fats, and sodium, you will likely stay free of illness, as well as look and feel better. That is why it’s important to be very cautious about how much you salt your foods, how much salt is in the foods you are purchasing, and that we look for alternatives to high-fat foods such as replacing pork with chicken. Also, be aware of what sauces and seasonings you are adding to your foods. Ketchup, BBQ sauce, steak sauce, and soy sauce are just a few examples of sauces that will add extra sodium and calories to your meal. This happens in restaurants all the time! What your eating may look and sound healthy. However, they may have added excess oil and salt to make it taste better.

The same meal with a few non-cosmetic changes can make or break your diet, always be on the lookout for hidden nutritional contents such as additional sodium, fat, and calories.

Author: Scott Van Hoy

The SAD Diet

The SAD diet is exactly how it sounds, sad. This diet has been proven to directly increase your chances of coronary heart disease, risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and has an overwhelmingly negative impact on our health. The SAD diet, also known as the ‘Standard American Diet’, is simply a representation of how the average American citizen eats.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is high in unhealthy saturated and hydrogenated fats, low in fiber, high in calories, high in processed foods, high in sugar, and low in plant-based foods.[i] Americans eat grossly too few vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, while refined grains, sugary beverages, frozen entrees, and sugar/candies are off the charts with consumption rates that are thousands of percentage points above the recommended USDA amount.[ii]

How did America get to the point where SAD is the norm? There are several theories behind why our diets have become so poor over the years, one being fast food prominence and marketing. In 2012, McDonalds alone spent 2.7 times as much on marketing than all fruit, vegetable, bottled water, and milk advertisers combined.[iii] Meanwhile, the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion which is the USDA’s sub-agency to the American that promotes dietary guidelines to the public has a total budget of only 1% of McDonald’s advertising budget.[iv]  This fast food culture also brings us convenience that we otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s easier to grab a quick unhealthy meal than it is to take the time to plan and cool healthy foods. Some will also claim that unhealthier foods such as the $1 menu at many restaurants are cheaper than healthier alternatives which makes it a better option for less wealthy families.[v] While there is some truth to this, I believe this comes back to education considering I know how to make plenty of healthy meals on a very low budget.

Regardless of how it happened, the Standard American Diet is now roughly 63% processed foods, 25% animal foods, and 12% plant based foods, and sodium intakes are more than double the recommended daily value.[vi] The American diet has taken a complete 180 from the diet our body thrives on. How do we fix this? Fixing this starts with you choosing to eat real foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables. We can learn to eat healthy ourselves and then inspire others to do the same.

For the skeptics

I often enjoy answering questions on Quora, and when a question about the SAD diet was asked, one of the responses by a reputable source was that the SAD diet is “a straw man fantasy used by orthorexics to criticize the eating habits of those they deem to be inferior.” I wanted to talk about this a little bit. The definition of ‘orthorexia’ is the obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy, and this is often considered as a mental health disorder. If you take a straight macronutrients approach to health, then I can see this argument. Basically if you want to maintain your weight you can eat anything in moderation, and thus stay relatively healthy. The same person that posted this answer to the Quora question claimed to have lost 35 pounds while eating dessert everyday, which is possible but not recommended. His stance is simply the calories in calories out approach to health, which is great for weight control, but doesn’t account for the concerns my article discussed. He believes that no matter how you eat you can control your weight, which is true to an extent but still neglects to take into account health concerns outside of your weight. The Standard American Diet is what is used to explain the increase in medical conditions such as obesity and hypertension in the U.S., and has nothing to do with an obsession with healthy eating or inferiority. It is a causal relationship between societal health observations and nutritional studies, not us nutritionists looking at people who eat relatively poorly as inferior.

Author: Scott Van Hoy – Click Here to view the author’s profile

References

Reignite Your Metabolism – Things Worth Sharing

Dr. Oz always comes up with fun and creative ways to teach us about how our bodies work. In this segment, he discusses the pituitary gland and how it can affect our metabolism. He also offers an easy solution to keep it working efficiently. What I love is that it hits on the point that we are all built slightly differently. To some of us, our hormones that are controlled by the pituitary gland might make weight loss much more difficult. However, something that was brought up by Michael Matthews in his book 12 Health and Fitness Mistakes that You Don’t Know You’re Making (summarized here), brings up that even if you have a naturally slower metabolism, the chances are it is no more than 20% slower than the average person. That 20% equals about 400 fewer calories a day needed by your body to function, meaning you must eat less or exercise more than the average person to lose weight, but it’s still very possible to do by eating lower calorie foods and hitting the gym. So watch the video below to learn about how your pituitary gland may be making it harder for you to lose weight, but keep in mind even with a slower metabolism, you have all the tools you need to lose weight and live a healthy life.

‘Things Worth Sharing’ is the portion of the website where I share interesting and useful health and fitness articles not written by 2 Weeks to Health. Nothing is advertised, everything is awesome.