Friday, June 18, 2010

Will the New Dietary Guidelines Affect Menus?

Every five years the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) releases a new and revised set of dietary guidelines for Americans. Basically what happens is that a group of nutrition and health experts get together to decide how Americans should be eating. Then the USDA publishes these guidelines to the public and evidently (based on obesity statistics) most of us ignore them.

Since the last set of guidelines was published in 2005, we’re due for an update this year, and on Tuesday we caught a glimpse of the new guidelines in a report released by the USDA. There really aren’t many changes to the guidelines; we’re still looking at limiting high fat and high sugar foods and increasing fruits and veggies. But a few recommendations definitely stand out.

There are two suggested steps mentioned in the report that I find to be quite revolutionary. The first deals with salt and sodium intake. I mentioned the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations for limiting salt intake in a previous blog, and now the USDA’s guidelines are reflecting that dramatic cut to sodium levels – 1,500 mg a day to be exact. That’s really low considering that the 2005 recommendations included 2,400 mg of sodium a day, and that the average American generally consumes about 3,400 mg per day.

The other recommended modification that I find pretty novel is the recommendation that Americans switch to a more plant-based diet and limit animal products. I remember reading a discussion in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food about a similar suggestion made by the USDA years ago. In response the beef industry attacked the government until they changed the wording to limit saturated fats instead of red meats. I don’t think that this recommendation will have the same reaction this time because of the popularity of vegetarian diets and sustainability.

These recommendations weren’t only made to consumers, the report also encourages restaurant and food companies to offer healthier options to help promote a better “health environment”.

Do you think that restaurants will take these suggestions into consideration?

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