Remember how I said (back before I stopped blogging) that the Guidelines aren’t written for the general public? The reality is that the five guidelines can sound like mumbo-jumbo to the average consumer. My goal here is to translate the guidelines into more average-person-friendly language.
1. Your entire eating pattern is more important than specific foods or nutrients.
Eating a healthy diet isn’t about vilifying a food group (i.e. grains or meats) or an individual nutrient (i.e. fat or carbohydrates). Nor is it about consuming the current super-food fad (i.e. quinoa or coconut oil).
It’s about your whole pattern of eating and the balance of food groups and nutrients.
2. Choose a variety of the most nutritious foods in the quantities you need to stay healthy.
Variety. You should eat foods from all the food groups (i.e. not just meat and grains). You should eat a variety of foods within each food group (i.e. not just potatoes and lettuce in the vegetable group.)
Nutritious. This means with lots of vitamins and minerals without many empty calories. This means choosing whole grains more frequently and white flour less frequently. It means choosing fresh fruit over fruit drinks. It means choosing a steak (preferably lean) over a hot dog. It’s choosing the grilled chicken over the nuggets.
Quantity. Eat the amount you need to maintain a healthy weight. Eat until you’re satisfied instead of until you’re stuffed.
3. Decrease sugar, solid fat, and salt intake.
Drink less soda and more water. Eat fewer fruit snacks and more whole fruit. Eat less meat and more fish and beans. Eat less cheese and more low fat yogurt. Eat less processed food and make more meals from scratch.
4. Trade healthier foods for less healthy ones.
Is this starting to sound like a broken record? Use brown rice instead of white. Eat fruit instead of drinking juice. Drink low fat milk instead of whole milk. Choose fish as your protein more frequently. Have a spinach salad instead of an iceberg lettuce one. Choose a baked potato instead of fries.
**And here’s where I need to remind us of the first recommendation again. Your entire eating pattern is more important than specific foods or nutrients. Neither I nor the DGA is recommending that you NEVER EAT white rice, iceberg lettuce, or French fries. Juice is fine on occasion. For that matter, a full-sugar soda is fine on occasion. It’s the overall pattern of your eating that makes the difference.**
5. Everybody is responsible for helping Americans eat healthier diets.
It’s easy to want to play a blame game when it comes to nutrition and health. Some say the poor dietary habits of Americans are each individual’s fault. Others blame food manufacturers or school lunch ladies or food deserts or supersized meals at McDonald’s.
This Guideline doesn’t point fingers, but it does say that everyone can play a role in improving the dietary habits of Americans. Workplaces and schools can make healthy options more available in their cafeterias. Food manufacturers can work to reduce the sodium in their food products. McDonald’s can offer to sub a salad for the fries in a value meal.