by Dr. Ellen Hing

The bottom line of U.S. Dietary Guidelines is “Eat more vegetables”. Since I was a child, many simplified food recommendation diagrams have been issued. When I was in third grade, the recommendation was a circle divided into 5 equal pie wedges. Then, there was a simple food pyramid with 4 levels; then a complicated vertical wedged pyramid that I never understood. Then a switch to a plate.  In simple terms, the newest plate recommends half the plate is filled with fruits and vegetables, a little more than a quarter of the plate is filled with protein foods and less than a quarter of the plate are carbohydrate foods. Then there is a cup with dairy.

Diets have come and gone. The grapefruit diet, the cabbage diet, the Adkins diet, the South Beach diet, Vegan diet, Mediterranean diet, Gluten-free diet. Eating should not be a chore or complicated. Eating should be pleasurable, but also meals need to provide our body with the right balance of nutrients. The ongoing concern of the medical profession, insurance companies and the government is that many chronic health problems are due to lifestyle choices, including what we do and don’t eat.

Everything you eat and drink over time matters.  The right mix can help you be healthier now and in the future.  Start with small changes to make healthier choices you can enjoy.  

Find your healthy eating style and maintain it for a lifetime.  This means:

● Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

○ Focus on whole fruits.

○ Vary your veggies.

● Make half your grains whole grains.

● Move to low-fat and fat-free milk or yogurt.

● Vary your protein routine.

● Drink and eat less sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars.

While you eat because what you enjoy tastes good, understanding the nutritional benefits of each food groups will guide your choices.

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. No matter what dietary recommendations have been made in the past, there have never been any limits set on fruits and vegetables.  A serving is equivalent to a half cup. A conservative recommendation is 5 to 7 servings a day, but some recommendations have been up to 9-12 servings a day. Fruits and vegetables provide fluid, fiber, minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants to our bodies. Minerals and vitamins are substances that are essential for metabolism and chemical reactions to occur in all our organs and prevent health issues related to deficiencies. The greater variety of colors or a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, the greater variety of antioxidants are provided. Antioxidants decrease cell deterioration, thereby decreasing cell damage and preserving cell and organ function. Studies show that a diet high in fruits and vegetables will decrease the incidence of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Fiber and fluids help our digestive tract and decreases constipation issues. Fluid and fiber in our stomachs also help to “fill you up” with fewer overall calories than other foods. And sorry, white potatoes are not a vegetable. White potatoes are a starch.
  • Eat more whole grains. Refined or processed grains, such as white bread, white rice, white flour and most breakfast cereals, are low in fiber, are lower in natural minerals and vitamins, and increase your glycemic index (which can cause big shifts in your blood sugar).  Whole grains are rich in mineral, vitamins and fiber. It is a little difficult to overeat oatmeal or brown rice.
  • In general, eat fewer refined carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are starches and sweets. The original food pyramid was heavy in carbohydrates (9-12 servings a day). The current guideline recommends that less than a quarter of your plate be carbohydrates and that added sugars (such as sweetened drinks, candy and dessert foods or treats) comprise less than 10% of your intake. Natural sugars in fruits and vegetables are not discouraged, because of the added benefit of the other nutrients in fruits and vegetables. Refined or processed grains are just starches. During digestion, carbohydrates are broken into sugar molecules. Sugar molecules are energy for our body, but if we eat more carbohydrates than our body uses, the sugar molecules are stored as fat (presumably to be used later). Due to the lack of fiber, refined grains don’t fill us up, so it is easy to eat more crackers, pasta, bread and cereals than our body needs.
  • Dairy is an important source of calcium and protein, and milk is fortified with vitamin D. The new recommendations encourage choosing the no fat to low fat options, since too much animal fat in our diet is still a concern.
  • Eat a variety of proteins. The American diet is high in red meat and processed meats. The new guidelines recommend less red meat and to include more poultry, fish and seafoods, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds and soy products. Though the new guidelines do not specify limits on cholesterol and fats, limiting saturated fats will help control blood cholesterol levels.
  • Eat less processed food. Americans are always busy, and it is easier to grab food that is already prepared than to make a meal or a dessert from scratch. Processed foods tend to be high in salt, high in sugar,  low in fiber and  high in saturated fats or contain trans fats (which has recently been changing).
  • Finally, drink more water. Our brain does not register the calories in liquids. We should drink milk or thick juices, because of the nutrients provided. But clear fluids, such as clear juices, sports drinks, kool-aid, lemonade and sodas, and sugar rich coffee drinks are essentially sugar water. To our brain, you drank water, which just happens to contain 150-400 calories per serving.
  • (Summarized from the 2015-2020 US Dietary Guidelines)