The new 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans has made necessary changes that make it easier to understand. Gone are the generic guidelines. In are the specifics: ½ a plate of fruit and vegetables, smaller portions, less sodium, sugar, and fat, and more whole grains. These important changes will help the country hopefully lead a healthier and longer life. But what do these new guidelines really mean? In my head, I envisioned days with no more high sodium convenient foods, tiny portions, and closed bakeries and dessert shops. In reality, this would probably not happen, but I needed time to make sense of these new guidelines and how to easily incorporate them into my diet.
Encouraging half a plate of fruit and vegetables is both necessary and feasible. Patients frequently comment about the high cost of fruit and vegetables and the amount of work it takes to prepare. With these new guidelines in place, the government has already encouraged local farmers and grocery stores to lower their prices. In the meantime, frozen vegetables and fruit (with no added sugars or sauces) are a great alternative to fresh since they are lower in cost, longer lasting, convenient, and have the same nutrients. While preparing fruit and vegetables hasn't changed, it is still easy to incorporate half of your daily intake of these colorful foods. Fruit can easily be added to cereal, as a snack during the day, or as a topping for yogurt or salads. Microwaving frozen vegetables makes including them at dinner an easy side dish. Salads, vegetables with fat free dressing, or "hiding" vegetables in casseroles or spaghetti are also good solutions.
Dealing with smaller portions may be a bit more difficult. Most restaurants offer portions large enough for two or more people. Although there is a push to have smaller portions, this has yet to become reality. As an alternative, make your entrée an appetizer or salad, split a meal with a friend, or put away half of your meal before you have begun eating. At home, practice measuring out food portions. This will take some time and practice, but after a few weeks, you will be able to recognize what the government recognizes as a serving of a food. If you are still hunting for a snack, but find that you have met most of your portions for the day, consider more fruit and vegetables, or a light snack such as cheese and unsalted crackers.
Finally, what about decreasing sodium, fat, and sugar? What will happen to your favorite dessert, canned soup or soda? They will all still be at the store and an occasional meal with them will not harm you. As an alternative, add extra water to soups or purchase low-sodium soups. It is best to avoid soda, but if you are having difficulty, limit sodas to twice a week, try a diet soda, or drink 100% juice with no added sugars to curb your sweet tooth. For me, desserts are the hardest foods to limit. While it is true that most desserts are high in sugar and fat, there are alternatives. Make your own homemade cookies where you can control the amount of butter and sugar that goes into it. Add oatmeal for extra fiber, sugar free chocolate chips, and 100% whole wheat or whole grain flour. Pudding (made with skim milk) or jello are great fat-free snacks. If you crave something different, try sugar free candy or low-fat frozen yogurt. Just remember that everything in moderation is still the key. Indulge in your favorite slice of chocolate cake is fine, as long as you have met your other nutrient needs and controlled the portion.
Rhea Li is a Registered Dietitian who received her Bachelor's degree in Nutrition and Master's degree in Public Health from the University of Texas. She has a special interest in working with children and has received her certification in pediatric weight management. Currently, she is working on a research study to determine the importance of nutrition in pediatric cancer patients. In the past, she has worked with pregnant women and their children. In her spare time, she enjoys being with family, exercising, traveling and of course, eating.