Dietary Guidelines: How to follow?

Every five years since 1980, there is a new version of dietary guidelines for American. The latest is the 8th edition given in 2015. For decades, people follow this guideline for the intake of salt, sugar, fat, cholesterol, and watch their total daily calories. The 2015 guideline came with an ease on cholesterol, fat and salt, and new limits on added sugar consumption.

Egg and shrimp lovers have no need to worry about their intake of the “bad” cholesterol any more. Decades of research has shown that dietary cholesterol has little or no effect on the blood cholesterol levels of most people. Studies also show too little salt may be as bad as too much if not worse. Not mention that the low-sodium product often contain more artificial food additives to achieve the same effects from salt.

Low-fat diet movement that the guideline have encouraged for decades may result an even worse and unhealthy habit of eating. Since almost all calories come from fat, protein or carbohydrates, cutting down the consumption of one means to increase the consumption of another. Replacing fat with carbohydrates can actually worsen cardiovascular health. Processed food without fat but loaded with sugar becomes a severe problem. The new guideline will still emphasize on eating unsaturated fat from fish, nuts, olive and vegetable oils. Hopefully in the future, we can appreciate saturated fat (e.g. butter, lard) without too much worries again. Lard, the pig fat, has been used in traditional Chinese diet for centuries. It is also a favorite for some western chefs. One can buy pure lard in the US too.

Added sugar consumption is everywhere, and about half of the daily consumption comes from soda, juices and other sugary drinks. The panel for the guideline finally request that sugary drinks should be removed from schools.  The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) proposed rule to require a distinct line for added sugars on food nutrition labels will also get endorsed. Pay attention to high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the ingredient list and stay away from it.

As a consumer, how should we follow the guidelines? As one can see from above, a rule followed for decades may be proved wrong. Michael Pollan, author of Food rules: an eater’s manual, has seven famous words “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. So simple. One should

  • drink water when thirsty
  • eat real food: fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, egg, fish, sea vegetables, meat etc.
  • eat less meat, more plants, not too much
  • watch ingredient list when shopping processed food, and avoid things that are not in your pantry

When you have a few minutes, please read Michael Pollan’s NYC article “Unhappy Meals”. I don’t totally agree with him (e.g. eat more plants, not only leaves, but other parts too), but most of his statements are rule of thumb towards healthy eating habits. I am sure you will benefit from following his advice.

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