Recommendations for today to live a better, healthier tomorrow.
Amanda Bontempo, MS RD CSO CDN is a registered dietitian and board certified in oncology nutrition, having received a bachelor's of science degree and master's of science degree from New York University. She has worked in oncology for over five years and consults with progressive health and technology companies in New York City. She's passionate about food and an equal lover of kale and chocolate. Follow Amanda on Twitter @AmandaBontempo and Instagram @amandabonbon.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is meant to encourage a healthful diet to promote health and prevent chronic disease. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture jointly publish the Dietary Guidelines every five years using the 500-page 2015 Dietary Guideline Advisory Report (DGAR), which was just released last week.
Some laudable direct quotes from this report include:
A healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non- fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.
A diet higher in plant-based foods...and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.
It will take concerted, bold actions...to achieve and maintain the healthy diet patterns, and the levels of physical activity needed to promote the health of the U.S. population. These actions will require a paradigm shift to an environment in which population-wide “culture of health” in which healthy lifestyle choices are easy, accessible, affordable, and normative.
I suspect that some of these shifts, like eating less red meat or citing the importance of our environmental footprint, will call the attention of powerful lobbyists on Capitol Hill and whether it will make it into the actual published guidelines remains to be seen.
With future articles and discussions in the comments section, I hope to wax poetic about specific food and nutrition politics including the ironic nature of agriculture subsidies to create a (corn) sweetener on the back-end and then tax it (sunny California) on front-end consumerism. Not to mention the $80 billion or so we spend on healthcare costs annually. I plan to write about nutrition and health topics including inflammation, fatigue, the power of mood, the sweet and vicious nature of sugar and more.
But in the spirit of this new release, I think it is important to review some things to do today, starting right now, for a better and healthier tomorrow.
While our genes help determine things like our eye color, height or risk of heart disease, it is wrong to think that we do not have some influence over them. Our environments, which include our diets, minds and lifestyle have the ability to finesse which genes and proteins are activated or deactivated.
While the Standard American Diet is fraught with imbalance. what remains subject to debate is exactly how it is imbalanced. The DGAR report reminds us that this continues to be discussed and debated. Is it the presence of ‘bad’ nutrients such as saturated fat or sugar? Or is it the absence of ‘good’ nutrients like fiber or omega-3 fatty acids? The public, in turn, is left feeling kind of pushed around. While any one of these nutrients may hold dietary responsibility for this or that chronic disease, I suspect the greater problem with the Western Diet is less direct and more systemic.
Live well today with these recommendations:
Choose foods that the earth made, which is to say those that do not have food labels. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. If your grandma wouldn’t have recognized it, run.
Create routines to help making healthier eating easier. Snack every few hours to avoid ravenous hunger which leads to overeating. Do a morning run-through of what you’re going to eat for each meal including snacks so there are no surprises.
Be active! Daily physical activity strengthens bones and promotes balance which is a leading cause of death in an aging population. Aim for 30 minutes, 3 times per week of exercise. Break a sweat.
Get some sun. And consider checking your blood vitamin D levels and supplement (1000-2000 IU per day) or per your medical doctor’s recommendations. Insufficient vitamin D should be called an epidemic and has a potential for higher rates of chronic diseases and cancers. This is especially true for the those living north of the line between Los Angeles and Atlanta. Many people, especially women, should consider taking a calcium supplement (600 mg) and magnesium (500 mg) to prevent constipation. Talk to your doctor before starting new supplements.
Sleep improves vitality, longevity and healing. Aim for 7-plus hours per day. Practice sleep hygiene like dimming lights and avoiding electronics at least 15 minutes before bed to stimulate melatonin.
If these recommendations sound a little new-agey to you, it’s probably because “health food” has gotten a bad rap. Eating well does not mean bland or boring. Just cooking one meal more per week from whole foods improves your diet, a component to your genetic environment, to help you live a healthier tomorrow.