Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture updates its Dietary Guidelines for Americans , and the newly issued iteration is receiving a lot of praise for its simple, straightforward recommendations.
- Cover half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
- Enjoy your food, but eat less.
- Switch to fat-free or low fat (1%) milk.
- Drink water instead of sugary sodas.
- Focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages.
In addition to specific and actionable diet advice, the new USDA publication supports an important idea: Social and economic environments matter. At the community/civic level , we need to improve access to fresh food, to build skills for healthy living, and to change social norms to support healthy lifestyles.
The choices of individuals and families are shaped and constrained by the range of choices available to them. If families can only afford or only have access to processed foods, that’s what they’ll buy. So these guidelines are written not only for consumers, but for the institutions and policy makers that can influence food producers and retailers. They should influence the the types of products that food processing firms introduce, the portion sizes served by restaurant chains, and the content of educational materials, such as the famous Food Pyramid.
There is a long way to go to reform U.S. food policy and improve Americans' eating habits. The presence of these refined guidelines won't magically cause Americans to replace every sugary or salty snack with a leafy salad. But this is a step in the right direction.
John James, M.A.
Research Analyst, Clergy Health Initiative