The US Dietary Guidelines

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 5.37.47 PMYes, we live longer, but are we living and eating well?

Over 150 million adults in the US are overweight or obese and over 115 million suffer from preventable diseases. Worldwide, over 1.9 billion people are overweight and 600 million obese, and the rate increases daily. On the flip side,  805 million people are chronically hungry and malnourished.

Let’s face it, most of our health problems – and related health care costs – in wealthy countries are based on a lifestyle of too many calories, too few nutrients, too little attention paid to weight gain and too little exercise.

What do we do instead? Gobble up over-prized and unnecessary vitamin supplements, take expensive medicine with even worse side effects, or go for MRI scans and surgery that few can afford. Or even worse, follow those fad diets and “nutrition advice” that bring your weight down for six months and up again for the next 6 months.

The official governmental advice, whether provided in the United States or Germany, is often too general and politically correct. Nevertheless, these guidelines may have a significant impact on food labeling laws or food and agricultural policies.

Our dietary recommendations are of course based on a Middle European diet.

The first US government-sponsored diet advice – generated by a panel of acclaimed nutritionists, food scientists and medical doctors in 1980 – actually contained a lot of common sense:

The 2015-2020 Dietary Recommendations:

  • Eat a variety of food,
  • Maintain ideal weight,
  • Avoid too much fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol,
  • Eat foods with adequate starch and fiber
  • Avoid too much sugar,
  • Avoid too much sodium,
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.

Yet, weight gain and obesity (Adipositas in German) reached epidemic Obeseproportions in 1990s and 2000s, despite the removal of trans fats, the reduced consumption of eggs, the introduction of Diet Coke and Low Fat Mayonnaise, the improved nutrition panels on packaged foods, the Atkins, South Beach, Paleo or Mediterranean Diets, the Whole Grain seal, the Slow Food movement, or the explosion of organic and natural foods.

The 2015 Dietary Recommendations:

  • Snack frequently on nuts, legumes, veggies, and fruits
  • Don’t binge on beef for the sake of your heart and the environment
  • Avoid “added sugar” food, such as white bread, soda or candy, …. as often as you can or want to
  • Drink more coffee, and less – or no –  Monster Bull (or whatever this months’ brand is called)
  • If you’re concerned about your cholesterol … don’t let it stop you from eating eggs in the morning or fried liver in the evening. These foods do not contribute to your high “bad” cholesterol.Brot mit Spiegelei_rect

Really, the recommendations have not changed much over the past 35 years.

Reality Check

So, why is it so hard to equate our culinary preferences with our individual well being?

  • No individual food or beverage is by and in itself “healthy.”
  • Some foods and beverages have more calories, others more nutritive value. In the end, people eat what tastes good, what’s convenient to prepare, and what’s available and affordable at the moment.
  • In North America and Europe, we do have choices!
  • Don’t blame the all-present availability of junk or fast food
  • Personal health is directly related to a lifestyle combination of what you eat (nutrition), how much you eat (calories) and how much you move (exercise).
  • Changing your eating habits and lifestyle is hard, very hard.
  • Pay attention to what you eat and drink. And put some value on eating right. It’s the most affordable and effective way to stay healthy