With the coming of the New Year, athletes commonly think about making nutrition resolutions. Good thing, given only 3 to 4% of Americans follow all of the Dietary Guidelines established by the government. Just to point out how bad the typical American Diet is:
- The greatest contributors of fiber to the American Diet are fiber-poor French fried potatoes and hamburger and hotdog buns. The average American consumes only about half (15 grams) of the recommended daily fiber intake.
- Twenty percent of Americans believe the calories from carbohydrates are more fattening than protein or fat. Wrong!
Americans need food help, but the question arises: How can we best teach the nutrition message? This topic was discussed at a conference hosted by the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy (Boston, Sept 19-21, 2006) and attended by about 250 dietitians, nutrition researchers, and professionals who work in the food industry. Most of speakers had been intimately involved with developing the 2005 Dietary Guidelines; they offered their suggestions for the 2010 edition. The following are a few key messages.
- Today's children are "Generation XL." The obesity rates in children have tripled since 1980, in large part because kids are less active. (Only two states (MA and IL) have mandatory physical education in schools.) We need to get kids playing outside instead of being inside on "screens."
- The dietary habits of 3-year old kids carry into teen years. Hence, kids who eat lots of fruits and vegetables will likely keep enjoying them as they age. But kids who eat lots of fast food will also carry this habit into adulthood. Nutrition messages for kids (and parents) should focus on healthy choices and active play. Changing the environment (less TV, fewer food ads, more time at playgrounds) would be very helpful to fight obesity. Parental support is essential.
- When we are served larger portions, we tend to eat more calories. A calorie-saving alternative is to serve smaller portions (such as 100-calorie snack-packs) or to offer foods that are less calorie-dense, such as fruits and vegetables. Even restaurants can help by serving more items with reduced calorie density, such casseroles with extra vegetables, brothy soups and lower calorie salads.
- The food industry has learned "healthy" on a food label can hurt sales. People think it might not taste as good...
- Kraft Foods exemplifies how industry can make corporate changes to improve America's health. Kraft has 700 items in their "Sensible Solutions" product line. They have stopped advertising to kids under 6 years, as well as in schools or school vending machines. They advertise only Sensible Solutions to kids ages 6 to11, and include activity in their messages. Good job, Kraft Foods!\
- Changing the cost of a food item can influence food choices: price influences 63% of food choices (but taste influences 95% of food choices).
-If lowfat snacks are 25% less expense than standard vending machine snacks, sales will increase by about 5%.
-If lowfat snacks are 50% less expensive, then sales will double (but the majority of purchases will still be full fat). Similarly, raising the price of "junk foods" can reduce sales.
For people on a tight budget, there's no way around the fact that oil costs only two cents per 100 calories and an apple might cost 40 cents per 100 calories. As long as fatty, fast foods are less expensive than a healthier meal, we have a tough battle in the war against obesity. Another discouraging note: lean people will buy an apple (or other low calorie food) if the price is lower, but obese people generally do not.
- Obese people tend to find food more important and more rewarding than do normal weight people. This can be due to a difference in "pleasure" brain receptors. Perhaps we could find pleasurable, lower-calorie food options?
- Older people tend to be using more and more herbs and spices to not only make food taste better but also to gain health benefits (limit bacterial growth, reduce tumors, settle upset stomachs). More cinnamon and garlic, please? (See www.clinicaltrials.gov to learn about current research.)
- Probiotics (such as in yogurt, kefir and in capsules) are highly popular in Northern Europe, Japan, Korea and many other countries. Consuming probiotics enhances the immune system because much of immune function is based in the intestinal tract. Some proven benefits relate to irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea in children, eczema, food allergies and autoimmune diseases. Perhaps a yogurt a day can help keep the doctor away...?
- Omega-3 fats (fish oils) are essential for brain function and to make eicosonoids that fight inflammation, such as occurs with heart disease. Eating (fatty) fish once or twice a week is a wise idea.
Making a winning diet
The government's Dietary Guidelines tell us what should eat, but the trick is teaching people (including athletes) HOW to do so. Three eating practices that implement the messages of the Dietary Guidelines and lead to better nutrition (and future health) are:
- Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Cook at home more often (for lower-fat food, smaller portions).
- Eat together as a family. (Children who eat family meals tend to eat more vegetables and fruits.)
With best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!
Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD is board Certified as a Specialist in Sports Dietetics. She counsels causal and competitive athletes in her private practice at Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill MA (617-383-6100). She is author of the best selling Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, her Food Guide for Marathoners, and her Cyclist's Food Guide, available atwww.nancyclarkrd.com. See alsowww.sportsnutritionworkshop.com.
DIETARY GUIDELINES FOR AMERICANS
A brief summary of some key recommendations made in 2005
- Consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods.
- Limit the intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt, and alcohol.
- Consume two cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables per day. Select from all five vegetable subgroups (dark green, orange, legumes, starchy vegetables, and other vegetables) several times a week.
- Consume 6 or more servings of grains per day. In general, at least half the grains should come from whole grains.
- Consume 3 cups per day of fat-free or low-fat milk or equivalent milk products.
- Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids and less than 300 mg/day of cholesterol, and keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.
- Keep total fat intake between 20 to 35 percent of calories, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
- Choose fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains often.
- Consume less than 2,300 mg (approximately 1 teaspoon of salt) of sodium per day.
- Choose and prepare foods with little salt. At the same time, consume potassium-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
- If you choose to drink alcoholic beverages, do so sensibly and in moderation (no more than one drink per day for women, two drinks per day for men).
For more complete guidelines, see www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines