Americans need to eat less, eat better and exercise more to break an epidemic of obesity that affects adults and children alike, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday in releasing its closely watched dietary guidelines.
"The bottom line is that most Americans need to trim our waistlines to reduce the risk of developing diet-related chronic disease," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
The guidelines are issued once every five years. The USDA said it will release a next-generation food pyramid incorporating the new guidelines in the coming months. One of the most significant new recommendations calls for people 51 and older to reduce daily sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams--far less than the average American consumes.
The lower recommendation also applies to those of any age who are African-American or have high blood pressure or diabetes. Others are advised to reduce daily sodium intake to below 2,300 milligrams.
That means eating less salt and the new guidelines point to processed foods as the primary source of over-consumption. Pizza, salad dressing, cold cuts and hamburgers are some of the high-sodium foods that Americans need to eat less of.
Men between the ages of 30 and 39 are by far the highest consumers of sodium, ingesting an average of about 4,500 milligrams per day.
The guidelines aren't just about eating less, Vilsack said. They push nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables instead of heavily processed foods loaded with added sugars.
Vilsack stressed that Americans should eat more fish and other seafood. At a news conference, he said encouraging the consumption of that kind of protein implies pushing Americans to decrease their consumption of red meats with higher fat.
"It's not as if we're trying to eliminate all foods in all categories, it's trying to make sure you're focusing on a balanced approach to your eating," he said.
Americans have come to rely too heavily on meat for their protein source, according to the new guidelines.
Beef, pork and poultry contain solid fats that are mostly devoid of nutrients, but the fat content of seafood, nuts and seeds comes in the form of oil and is full of nutrients, said Robert Post, deputy director for USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.
The USDA is again recommending that Americans eat 5.5 ounces of protein per day--the same as it did five years ago when the dietary guidelines were last set--but this time specific recommendations are being made as to where that protein should come from.
Now the USDA is recommending that about 22% of that protein come from seafood.
The guidelines say people should eat more fruits and vegetables and consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. It calls on Americans to switch to fat-free or low-fat milk and choose a variety of proteins including beans, peas and soy products.
The dietary guidelines can have wide ripple effects for packaged-food makers. Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT), Campbell Soup Co. (CPB) and others routinely look to the guidelines when reformulating products and designing marketing efforts. Amid the increased focus on cutting calories, Campbell Soup has focused on products that lend themselves more easily to control portions. Some of the Camden, N.J., company's microwaveable Soup at Hand products have started calling out on the front of packages that they have only 80 calories in each container, said David Smith, Campbell's vice president of research and development for the North American division. The Pepperidge Farm-brand Deli Flats, a cross between pita bread and a roll, were designed so that each one would have 100 calories.
Smith said that in the future the company will continue looking at ways to slice the calories from the company's products.
"We're obviously continually looking at our portfolio and optimizing our products for nutrition content," Smith said in an interview Monday. "In our products, we try to get you a decent amount [per serving] that won't leave you craving the rest of the bag."
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