By Carol Berg Sloan RD
What are the dietary guidelines?
Have you ever wondered where school districts get their menu plans, where the Women Infant and Children (WIC) programs receive nutrition guidance, or where the meal plans at long-term healthcare facilities come from? They’re all from the United States Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines.
Generally speaking, the dietary guidelines provide nutrition advice for Americans two years and older to help prevent chronic disease and promote good health. They are the basis of federal nutrition policy, education, outreach and food assistance programs. The guidelines were established in 1980 and are updated every five years. As a registered dietitian, I follow the guidelines closely, but sadly a recent survey showed that only 4% of the public is even aware of the recommendations.
What do they tell us about balancing calories in 2010?
The obesity epidemic continues on an upward trajectory, and while the current dietary guidelines cover numerous topics, I’m going to focus on one of the most critical aspects– balancing calories.
I believe that most of us have no clue how many calories we eat or what an adequate portion size should be. When counseling patients, the first thing I ask for before the session is a detailed three-day food recall and an estimate of how much they exercise daily. This allows me to see how many calories they are consuming and how many calories they are burning each day.
From there we can talk about food and beverage choices. Do I tell them “Well, you start your diet today…no more soda, cakes, chips, candy, alcohol…?” Of course not! We all know from personal experience and documented research that no one will stay on this type of restrictive regimen nor will it change any behaviors toward a long-term healthy lifestyle. Knowing that it’s not about eliminating, but rather modifying, can make a difference in how weight is managed. Other successful tips I’ve used to manage weight for my clients include:
Mindless munching: Monitor what, when and where you eat. Many eat mindlessly- in front of the computer, while driving, or just out of habit (the daily stop at Starbucks before work). Research proves accountability equals success. Keeping a small notebook in your desk or purse, or downloading a free smart phone calorie-counting app, will help you keep track of what you eat so that you don’t forget.
Quality vs. Quantity: When eating out, choose wisely. For instance, have a quality bread roll and ask for olive oil and balsamic instead of butter or choose seasonal fresh vegetable dishes. Both taste better and are better for you.
Kick-start the Day: Eat a breakfast that includes fruits or vegetables, whole grains and protein. My favorite is whole-grain bread with sliced tomatoes and mozzarella; put it in the toaster oven for one minute and enjoy!
Today’s Portions vs. Yesterday’s: Realize that today’s portions are bigger than what is recommended, needed or established as a serving size decades ago. In fact, today’s teenager thinks a 5-ounce muffin or 2-ounce bag of chips is the norm. I give clients common, visual examples of what portion sizes equal, such as 1 ounce of cheese is the size of a domino, or a serving of cooked pasta is equivalent of the size of half a baseball.
Balancing Act: Focus on balancing your calories in with calories out. Many people don’t know that consuming 3,500 extra calories beyond what you burn off will be stored as a pound of fat. Do the math, and you’ll discover that eating 500 additional calories daily leads to a pound a week over the long term, and it’s important to remember that 500 calories, whether from a candy bar, a peanut butter sandwich on whole-grain bread, or a yogurt parfait, will all have that effect. I recommend that my clients get a pedometer and shoot for 10,000 steps a day, which is about five miles. This could burn up to 500 calories a day.
Remember, there’s no need to eliminate the foods or beverages you love. Soda, cookies, chips, and candy can all be enjoyed in moderation, and many of our favorite snacks and beverages now come in smaller, manageable single servings. For example, you can find 100-calorie packs of your favorite cookies or crackers or 7.5-ounce mini cans from Coca-Cola.
The 2010 dietary guidelines once again provide basic tips based on science, which can lead you down a healthier path. Being cognizant of how many calories you eat, while balancing with calories burned, can help you achieve weight loss or maintain your healthy weight. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how in control you will feel.