Despite years of pushing healthier lifestyles, Americans still are not paying attention to what they eat. Health experts have come up with what they call universal diet guidelines to clear up some of the confusion over what is really "healthy" eating.
Health experts realize the message of good nutrition can be very confusing. Using their own recommendations for preventing chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, the nation's top health organizations joined forces to create the "Unified Dietary Guidelines." "We've grown fatter, more sedentary and eat too much saturated fat. Since we are left to our own devices in food choices, we are not doing too well," says Dr. Edward Fisher of the American Heart Association.
These guidelines are based on the Food Guide Pyramid, and the daily recommended allowances for vitamins and minerals are not really new. The group hopes by drafting one eating plan, it will be easier for most people to follow a healthy diet.
Under the suggested guidelines, a typical day's food intake should not include more than 30 percent of total calories from fat. It should include five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily. You should have no more than one teaspoon of salt each day, and sugar intake should be reduced. Diane Quagliani of the American Dietetic Association advises, "When you make a trip to the grocery store, spend a lot of time in the produce sections. Get your fruits and vegetables in your cart first. Choose a lot of different colors of vegetables to maximize the amount of nutrients you are getting. Look at the pasta label and choose pastas that have a large amount of fiber in them. "
Pediatricians say these guidelines apply to children as young as two years of age. They hope this will reverse the growing trend of obesity and prevent unnecessary illness later in life. Even as they applaud new initiatives, they acknowledge this is not a "one size fits all" solution. "They don't set out to say, `ok give oranges this day and apples the next day.' And they don't say how to restrict the fat. People need some guidance from their physician and from the dietary community. This way we can use these guidelines in a realistic way as we pack school lunches," says Dr. Stan Cohen, American Academy of Pediatricians.