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The New Dietary Guidelines: What You Should Know

Photo by Melissa Punch

Photo by Melissa Punch

Last week, the USDA and HHS released new dietary guidelines for Americans. So what changed, and what does it mean for your diet? Well, nothing too groundbreaking—to sum it up (and with apologies to Michael Pollan), Eat food. Not Too Much. Oh, and get up off the couch.

We know by now (I hope!) that eating real food, in normal portions, and exercising most days of the week will keep us feeling healthy and looking good in our skinny jeans (or our layers and snow boots, as many of you are probably wearing right now). But there are a few new developments added to the latest update that are especially important for women. We spoke with Elizabeth Ward, R.D., to help us break it down.

FITNESS: What are some of the most surprising changes in the new guidelines?

Elizabeth Ward: They’re really focusing on the obesity problem in both adults and children, emphasizing the need for healthier foods, smaller portions and exercise. They’re also paying attention to moms-to-be: maintaining a healthy weight to avoid increasing the chances your child will be overweight. Research has shown a connection between a mother’s BMI when she conceives and how much body fat the baby has at birth.

FITNESS: Have the nutrient recommendations changed?

EW: The guidelines are recognizing nutrients that Americans are deficient in -- calcium, Vitamin D, potassium, and fiber. They’re pointing to whole foods to fill these gaps, with fortified foods and supplements as a secondary option, and recommend adding more fish to our diets—even pregnant women are advised to eat 8-12 ounces a week of low-mercury varieties. Eating whole, nutrient-dense food—whole-grains, fruits and veggies, lean protein and low-fat dairy—also limits the amount of added fats, sugars and sodium you eat, so it’s a win-win. As for salt, the recommendation for healthy people under the age of 51 (with exceptions) is 2,300 milligrams; not as low as we thought it would go.

FITNESS: Do you think these updates will help people change their diets?

EW: I think the guidelines are what people make of them. Ultimately, we need to get our weight where it’s supposed to be, keep it there, and make sure any nutrient gaps are filled up. Even if you’re fit and active, your diet could still need work -- a shortfall in nutrients can affect your health, increasing your risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.

Get the full report, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, here

So, tell us, will the new guidelines prompt you to keep an even closer eye on your plate?