Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Policy Point Wednesday - Don't Let Them Eat Cake...USDA Guidelines

As I'm sure you know, the long-awaited Dietary Guidelines for Americans has been released.  It's an interesting mix of which foods to eat and which to stop eating, and it offers an excellent overall message.  Most importantly, it states clearly that Americans need to eat less and exercise more.  Not earth-shattering news, certainly - but portion control and sedentary lifestyles are clearly two of the biggest offenders when it comes to diet-related disease.

Second, the guidelines lists specific foods we should be eating and how to get it into our diet:  "Make half your plate fruits and vegetables," "A variety of vegetables, especially dark-green and red and orange vegetables and beans and peas,"  "Increase the amount and variety of seafood consumed by choosing seafood in place of some meat and poultry. "  Much better than the confusing food pyramid, or the even more confusing modified food pyramid.

Unfortunately, as noted by Marion Nestle, the guidelines are less specific when discussing foods that should be avoided.  Instead of saying to decrease consumption of, say, the specific foods determined  to comprise nearly half of kids' calorie intake: pizza, cake, cookies and ice cream, the guidelines ramble on a bit about solid fats, sodium and added sugar.  Unless you are an avid label-reader, you might not translate the guidelines into which specific foods to avoid.

The unfortunate truth is that many Americans probably know what they're doing wrong, but can't or won't change.  Blogger Drea Knufken suggests that the real problem with the dietary guidelines is that they don't recognize the connection to economics.  She says cooking healthfully "takes more time and money than a lot of people have."  She writes that the working poor need quick or cheap food in a hurry, and aren't likely to research the dietary guidelines to begin with. "In short, the stuff is addictive, it’s bad for you, and it’s a lot more affordable than eating any other way."  A better alternative than dietary guidelines, she suggests, would be to change the farm subsidies to give an advantage to fresh, healthy foods over corn and ethanol.

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