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Americans should cut back drastically on sugar and eat less meat. These recommendations are highlights of the recently released eighth edition of the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
How to achieve dietary goals can be daunting for most consumers. Nancy Brumfield, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at USA Mitchell Cancer Institute, offers five tips for how to eat better, follow the new recommendations and improve overall health. Her job on a day-to-day basis is counseling cancer patients and survivors about nutrition.
The federal guidelines, jointly released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are important because they help guide policymakers in making funding decisions for federal food programs, and they also set general recommendations for the public. The guidelines have drawn criticism for using studies with ties to the food industry. Nonetheless, the overall goal is to prevent chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Brumfield offers the following tips:
Limit processed foods. “This is where many consumers get most of their sugar and salt, rather than by sprinkling it onto what’s on the plate,” Brumfield said. She suggests choosing foods in their most natural forms in order to fulfill the recommendation for less sugar and salt. The more “convenience” that has been added to an item, she said, the more likely that food is to contain salt, sugar and preservatives.
Read labels. You won’t find a nutritional label on an apple or banana, but if you’re buying a muffin, first notice how many servings are included, she said. Then, with the serving size in mind, examine the label for number of grams of added sugar, which is listed under carbohydrates. The new guidelines recommend that Americans consume no more than 10 percent of their daily calories in sugar. “This translates to 37 grams for men and 25 grams for women,” Brumfield said. Cutting back on sugary drinks is a good way to start, she said.
Pick more plants. The new guidelines recommend that men and teenage boys cut back on protein foods such as meat, poultry and eggs. Brumfield suggests more fruits and vegetables across the board for both men and women. “Dietitians still say we need to eat more of a plant-based diet,” she said. “Two-thirds of your plate should be vegetables, fruits and whole grains.” Studies indicate that a high intake of these foods reduces the risk of certain types of cancer, such as mouth, pharynx, larynx, stomach, lung, prostate, esophagus and colon cancer, she said.
Get your nutrition from food not supplements. Not only do you get vitamins and minerals from what you eat, but you also receive phytonutrients that help to fight cancer. What’s more, science tells us that there may be a synergistic benefit from getting your nutrients from the foods you eat.
Get physical. Brumfield points out that the federal Dietary Guidelines, no matter how strict, should be paired with regular physical activity. “Exercise improves metabolism, and studies show that it has a positive effect on depression and blood pressure,” she said. “It’s a great way to burn up those calories.”
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