Now that the smoke, debate and confusion has cleared over the latest update to the federal dietary guidelines, here is what you need to know.
Big picture focus: This year’s update stresses “a healthy eating pattern” over the course of your life as opposed to focusing on individual nutrients or foods. “It’s not one food. It’s a whole eating pattern,” said Barry Popkin, a food science researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of “The World is Fat.”
Elisabetta Politi, nutrition director at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center, cheered the change: “I’d like to commend them for that.” The previous focus to limit certain foods or nutrients created confusion for many people trying to watch what they ate. “I see this every day with many clients,” Politi said. “They feel guilty about eating eggs and butter.” (It’s worth noting that the new guidelines do mention limiting three nutrients, which we’ll explain more below, but the overall focus has changed.)
So what does a healthy eating pattern include? The usual suspects: a variety of fruits and vegetables, grains (especially whole grains), fat-free or low-fat dairy, a variety of proteins (seafood, lean meats, eggs, beans and peas, nuts, seeds and soy products) and oils.
How can you do this? The key is to take small steps, not efforts at large-scale change, explained Nancy Fey-Yensan, a registered dietitian and dean of the college of health and human services at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She suggests keeping track of what you eat for a few days and then looking at what healthier substitutions you can make. “Mindfully identify places where you can swap out for things that you like,” Fey-Yensan said.
A few ideas: Bring home a new-to-you fruit or vegetable every week, whether that’s papaya or kohlrabi. Instead of white rice, make brown rice half the time. Instead of white bread, try some whole grain bread. Instead of whole milk, try 2 percent milk, then graduate later to 1 percent or skim. Expand your protein choices: Try a new fish or seafood, go meatless one night a week, make a big pot of beans or field peas once a month.
What does a healthy eating pattern limit? Sugar, salt and saturated fat. We should consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugar. The same goes for saturated fat. Sodium should be limited to 2,300 milligrams a day.
What’s the math for sugar and saturated fat? Determining what is 10 percent of your daily calories depends upon how many calories you eat in a day. For women, that’s 1,600-2,000 calories. For men, it is 2,400-3,000. Therefore, 10 percent equals 160 to 300 calories. One 20-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola contains 240 calories from sugar. Three Oreo cookies contain about 54 calories from sugar. A McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese and a large fries contains 148 calories of saturated fat. A Subway 12-inch meatball sub has 126 calories from saturated fat. It’s easy to see how quickly it adds up.
Let’s break down the math for salt: A teaspoon of salt is equal to 2,300 milligrams. This is not only the salt you sprinkle on food; this number also reflects the salt already in the processed foods we eat. In one day, you would reach that limit by lunchtime by eating three slices of bacon, two fried eggs, a 1-ounce snack-size bag of Doritos, two slices of ham and one slice of American cheese on two slices of white bread and a 12-ounce Diet Coke.
What about coffee? The guidelines gave a boost to those who need their daily caffeine fix. The guidelines’ scientific report cited research that shows the amount of caffeine in three to five cups of coffee can reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults and may even protect against Parkinson’s disease.
And eggs? The guidelines also seemed to clear eggs, with their high levels of dietary cholesterol, as a culprit for the artery-clogging plaques that cause heart disease. The guidelines removed the limit of 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol a day. Experts caution that this is not a green light to eat a lot more of cholesterol-laden foods, including eggs, butter, bacon, sausages, red meat, cheese and pastries.
Some Healthy Meal Resources
Right now, we’re reaching for three books:
▪ “Bon Appetit: The Food Lover’s Cleanse,” by Sarah Dickerman (William Morrow, 2015). Usually, I despise any cookbook with the word “cleanse” in the title. But this isn’t a cleanse book; it’s a collection of good-tasting, seasonal dishes that happen to be healthy from Seattle-based food writer Sara Dickerman.
▪ “The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook,” by Nancy Harmon Jenkins (Bantam, 2009). This update of Jenkins’ classic 1994 cookbook is worth your time and money.
▪ “Mediterranean Harvest:Vegetarian Recipes from the World’s Healthiest Cuisine,” by Martha Rose Shulman (Rodale, 2007). Shulman wrote the Recipes for Health column in The New York Times. Her recipes are dependable and delicious.
Go to the Choose My Plate site to read more about the dietary guidelines: choosemyplate.gov.
We have lots of healthy recipes online at nando.com/therecipe, including Toast’s Spicy Lentil Soup, Spaghetti Squash and Turkey Meatballs, Tuscan Beans with Olive Oil and Aromatics and Chick Pea Stew.
Toasted Spiced Muesli with Pecans and Flaxseed
From “Bon Appetit: The Food Lover’s Cleanse,” by Sarah Dickerman (William Morrow, 2015).
2 cups rolled oats
4 teaspoons olive oil
4 teaspoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup flaxseeds
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 sliced cored pear or apple
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine oats, olive oil, maple syrup, cinnamon, pecans, flaxseeds and salt in a medium bowl. Spread out on a baking sheet and toast until oats are light golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Let cool. Can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 2 weeks. To serve, combine 1/4 cup muesli with yogurt and fruit.
Yield: 8-10 servings muesli.
Pan-Roasted Salmon with Grapefruit-Cabbage Slaw
This recipe makes four servings for dinner and an extra salmon fillet for a lunch salad the next day. Toss that leftover salmon with grated carrots and celery root, chopped mint and Belgian endive, toasted sesame seeds and tahini dressing. From “Bon Appetit: The Food Lover’s Cleanse,” by Sarah Dickerman (William Morrow, 2015).
1 large pink grapefruit, cut into supremes, juice reserved (see Note below)
1 small shallot, finely chopped
5 (4-ounce) salmon fillets, preferably wild-caught sockeye or king, skin on, pin bones removed
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt
1/2 ripe avocado, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 medium Savoy cabbage head, cored and thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, for serving
Combine the grapefruit juice and shallot in a small bowl; set aside.
Score the skin side of the salmon and season all over with salt and pepper.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place salmon skin side down in the skillet. Cook until skin is browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Flip the fillets, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the fish is barely opaque at the center of each fillet, about 4 more minutes. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the grapefruit juice-shallot mixture, yogurt and remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Add the grapefruit segments, avocado and cabbage and toss gently to combine; season with salt and pepper. Top slaw with cilantro and serve alongside salmon.
Note: How to supreme citrus: Cut a 1/2-inch slice off the top and bottom of one fruit and place it with the flat side down. Using a sharp knife in a curving downward motion, slice off a band of the skin, pith, and a thin layer of flesh from the fruit. Rotate and repeat until the fruit is completely skinned. Holding the fruit in hand, cut a V shape parallel to the membrane of each section to release the crescent of citrus flesh. Repeat with remaining sections of the fruit. If juice is needed, once all sections are cut, squeeze membranes to extract juice.
Yield: 4 servings and 1 lunch the next day.
From “Mediterranean Harvest:Vegetarian Recipes from the World’s Healthiest Cuisine,” by Martha Rose Shulman (Rodale, 2007).
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, diced small
1 small cabbage, cored and finely chopped, about 8 cups
3 tablespoons water
2/3 cup canned tomatoes, chopped and drained
1 teaspoon paprika
Freshly ground black pepper
3 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 2-quart baking or gratin dish.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add cabbage and about 1/2 teaspoon salt, stir together, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cabbage is tender and limp. Add water, cover and cook for another 15 minutes, until cabbage is quite tender and its bright green color has faded. Stir in chopped tomatoes, paprika and lots of pepper.
Transfer mixture to baking dish. Arrange sliced tomatoes on top, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with remaining oil. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the gratin is charred around the edges and the tomato slices are shriveled. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 4 servings.