Dietary Guidelines Part 5:
Copyright 2013 by Mark Walters
Tracker Book LLC
What a diverse variety of cuisines, culinary traditions, and methods of preparing food are there all around the world. Much of the favorite foods we eat and meals we prepare are closely tied in to our specific cultural traditions and unique regional tastes. With every style of eating there are certainly some healthy and some less healthy choices we can make in our diet. Whether we eat Italian, Indian, Mexican, or any variety of meal, it is helpful to examine what we eat within the framework of the “2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans” to see how closely our diet is aligned to what current, well-researched, and unbiased studies tell us is the most nutritional way.
I am not a nutritionist, just an average person concerned with proper nutrition and exercise. Reviewing the dietary guidelines helped me determine what I was doing well and not so well in my diet and to make immediate and beneficial changes. I summarized what I learned in a series of articles on nutrition, and in these articles I refer to both the “2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans” as well as the comprehensive and informative “American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide” by Roberta Larson Duyff (3rd edition, 2006).
Most of the information presented in the 95-page, 6-chapter “2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans” offers general recommendations on food components to either increase or decrease in the diet, as well as a general overview of the key macronutrients and micronutrients. In chapter 5, however, the dietary guidelines shows support for three eating styles that conform closely to its main tenet to eat more nutrient-dense foods that are low in calories, sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fat. These three recommended eating styles are the specially formulated DASH dietary plan, the Mediterranean eating style, and the vegetarian eating style.
Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)
The first of the dietary guidelines’ three recommended eating styles is DASH, a specific dietary plan devised by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with the main goal of reducing high blood pressure and cholesterol. Many of the main tenets of this plan put into place the recommendations made in chapters 3 and 4 of the dietary guidelines advising which foods to increase and which to decrease. The DASH plan goes into much greater detail to help individuals plan specific meals and eating routines to help reduce their blood pressure and cholesterol levels through more healthful eating choices.
It is evident that many individuals could benefit from using the DASH plan, because according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 1 in 3 American adults has high blood pressure (hypertension), afflicting over 74 million people. Furthermore, some 16% of U.S. adults have high cholesterol, while 81.1 million Americans suffer from cardiovascular disease.
One of the primary goals of the DASH plan is to reduce sodium and dietary cholesterol in one’s eating, so that in turn leads to a decrease in hypertension and blood cholesterol levels. According to the dietary guidelines, average sodium consumption is currently far too high, averaging 3,400 mg a day. The DASH plan encourages individuals to reduce their sodium intake to no more than 2,300 mg a day, with further benefits being realized when sodium levels are brought down to 1,500 mg per day. Many other facets of the plan align with the dietary guidelines’ recommendation for individuals to boost consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, seafood, and dairy products, while limiting intake of added sugars and saturated fats.
Studies confirm that the DASH plan is effective in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Although the “2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans” mentions the DASH plan only in passing in chapter 5, more information about DASH can be obtained from this U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.
Many meals prepared in the Mediterranean style of eating are recommended by the dietary guidelines on account of their heart-healthy nutritional benefits. Foods prepared in this region—which spans Greece, southern Italy, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Spain, and southern France—tend to have generous helpings of food from categories which the dietary guidelines recommends people consume more of in their diet. These nutritionally dense foods include whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, lower-fat milk and milk products, and omega-3-rich fish. Furthermore, the oils used in Mediterranean foods come mainly from more healthful monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, rather than from less healthful solids and saturated fats. A Mediterranean-style diet typically involves less red meat consumption and in some countries, a moderate, and perhaps beneficial, intake of alcohol.
Meals prepared in the vegetarian style offer strong nutritional benefits and are therefore recommended by the dietary guidelines. Based on chapters 3 and 4 of the dietary guidelines, which advise which foods to increase or to decrease, it is clear why the dietary guidelines would support a vegetarian eating style. Cholesterol, which is found only in animal sources, is much less of a concern when one adheres to a largely vegetarian diet. For lacto-ovo vegetarians, some cholesterol will be found in dairy and egg sources, but because no meat is included in the meal, a substantial amount of cholesterol is reduced. And vegans can brag about their zero-cholesterol diet. So long as they go easy on the soy sauce and other sodium-rich foods, vegetarians may also have a head start when it comes to lowering their sodium levels, since high sodium is found in many processed meats and poultry dishes. Following a nutritionally sound vegetarian eating plan--one that incorporates a plethora of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains--provides the additional benefits of a diet low in fat and high in fiber, potassium, and vitamin C.
Although in the past there was a concern that vegetarians were not getting enough protein or that they would get an “incomplete” protein unless they ate a certain combination of plant proteins in one sitting, the view today is that vegetarians in general receive adequate levels of protein in their diets. Vegetarians should look to legumes, nuts, beans and peas, seeds, and soy products for quality sources of proteins.
Since a vegan diet does not include any animal products, though, it does not conform to the dietary guidelines’ recommendation that individuals increase their consumption of milk and milk products. The dietary guidelines make clear the importance of calcium and vitamin D in the diet and their vital role in keeping bones healthy and strong. Since these important nutrients are typically well represented in milk and milk products, including cheese and yogurt, which vegans do not consume, these nutrients may be a concern for vegans. Other nutrients of concern for vegans include iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. Vegans can obtain these vitamins and minerals by consuming certain soy milk beverages, fortified breakfast cereals, and vegetarian burger patties.
Although iron can be obtained from both animal (heme) as well as plant (nonheme) sources, some studies have suggested that heme iron is more readily absorbed by the body. One suggestion for vegetarians to help boost their absorption of nonheme iron is to consume a vitamin C-rich food or beverage with every meal, since research links vitamin C to higher iron absorption when these nutrients are consumed at the same time, according to the American Dietetic Association.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010." 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2010. PDF.
Duyff, Roberta Larson and American Dietetic Association. "American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide." 6th Edition. Hoboken: Wiley & Sons, 2006.
The information presented in this newsletter is meant for general purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or treat any ailments. If you have a question about exercise or nutrition that pertains to your specific condition, please consult your physician before beginning an exercise program or changing your diet.
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