National Nutrition Month is here and what better time to take a closer look at what we’re eating and what’s recommended for a healthy diet. You may have heard that eggs are good; eggs are bad; butter is sexy; butter is bad; meat and Paleo is king; vegan is the way to go… feel confused? You’re not alone.
But this time, we can all join in a cheer as new guidelines call for more plant-based eating! Nutritionists, Dietitians, Vegans, Juicers, Animal Rights Activists, Parents, Fruit and Veggie lovers everywhere rejoice! Despite trying to stay positive, you may find still yourself thinking things like “It’s about time,” “Finally,” “Thanks for sharing what we’ve known for years.” But hey, anytime is a good time to highlight not only the health but also, the environmental benefits of plant-based eating. The report shines a light on the importance of using evidenced-based guidelines to inform our public nutrition policies and official recommendations.
The new guidelines also call for developing a focus on a “culture of health” both for individuals as well as our population. In a way, a grassroots, social approach may prove to be our best bet for making healthy change a reality. Years ago at Harvard School of Public Health, I heard a presentation by Dr. David Kessler, author of, The End of Overeating, saying that we could liken these desired population-based eating habit changes to ways that smoking rates decreased. Beyond taxes and public health information, the fact that smoking became, “uncool” may have made a big difference. Perusing social media these days, it does indeed seem that the Standard American Diet or SAD eating is certainly becoming “uncool,” making way for much trendier, “cooler,” plant-based diets.
Here’s what the new guidelines are intended to do:
- They are intended for those over 2 years of age
- Many public and educational policies around food and nutrition including the school lunch program, are based around the guidelines
- The ultimate goal is to provide a road map to maintain a healthy weight, prevent disease and promote overall health and wellness
Here’s where we’re at now, according to the new report:
- About half of Americans suffer from a preventable disease related to lifestyle; that’s about 117 million people!
- More than 2/3 of adults and 1/3 of children remain overweight or obese, increasing their risk of these preventable conditions like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers
- More than 49 MILLION Americans, including 9 MILLION CHILDREN live in a household suffering from food insecurity; meaning they may not know where their next meal is coming from or go to bed hungry
- Besides health outcomes, the economic and social impact of the extent of our poor diet and lifestyle choices like physical inactivity is enormous
- Health disparity is also a serious issue that needs to be better addressed
One of many criticisms of past government guidelines is that some came from a place of political influence rather than hard science; think back to that lovely Food Pyramid. The new guidelines, in some opinions, don’t go quite far enough in its encouragement for more plants. However we are certainly moving in the right direction.
The first official Dietary Guidelines were released in 1980, with an official committee appointed in 1985. Since 1990, the government mandates the guidelines be reviewed, updated and published, based on available evidence or research, every five years. These guidelines come from work between the US Department of Health & Human Services, DHHS, plus the US Department of Agriculture, or USDA. The most recent, 2015 are not yet considered final until after public hearings and written comment submission is completed and examined.
Let your voice be heard!
In perusing the official Department of Health & Human Services website on the 2015 dietary guidelines, I discovered over 3,500 public comments from your average citizens and US department heads! Many are the same letter, reposted from different individuals, however there are unique voices as well. You can let your voice be heard between now and midnight EST on April 8th, here. You can also read comments to learn more science, opinion and policy.
Here’s one of my favorites:
Comment #3456: “I believe it is completely obvious that eating foods which contain no non-evolutionary food chain additives, (basically no manufactured ingredients, minimal processing, no pesticides) have been delivering the best health for millions of years. My girlfriend lost over 100lbs in a year via this diet and 5mi./day on the treadmill. We have both severely enjoyed our health benefits:)”
Comment #3346 – “I work in a rural area of Missouri where a majority of the residents are low income, receive EBT, WIC, and participate in the benefit of Medicaid. I have figured out, [personally], that it benefits me to practice healthy eating habits and engage in physical activity because in the long run it will save me money when it comes to expense of healthcare…For preventative measure, per habits/choices, individuals would benefit from education provided by a nutritionist/dietician(covered by their insurance of course) with the hopes this education, in the long run, saves on money… Regarding EBT, it is my understanding that the program WIC requires participation inside the Health Organization, with the Vouchers being good for food items reflected in the food plate. EBT can not be used in the same manner? Mandatory participation in education offered by health professionals regarding the benefits of physical activity, healthy food choices(what is healthy, preparing/cooking foods, and what ones “food plate” should reflect? I do not think “restricting” is the word choice regarding this problem, but education for overall improved wellness…”
If you’re in the Washington, DC area you can also attend a public hearing on March 24, 2015. Details are here.