2010 Dietary Guidelines: What's New?

March 25, 2011

What's new in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines?

With the release of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, consumers are encouraged to count calories (in and out) to achieve a healthy weight and to focus on nutrient-dense foods and beverages. The report states, “A fundamental premise of the Dietary Guidelines is that nutrients should come primarily from foods” (p. 49). This is the first Dietary Guidelines to single out obesity as the greatest public health threat and to focus each section on addressing this challenge.

Most people want to be healthy, yet two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. How do we monitor energy balance? Usually with the bathroom scales or the fit of our clothing. Most Americans try to lose weight sometime during the year. As the Dietary Guidelines indicate, you must know your activity level and calorie requirements to maintain a healthy weight. Much of the emphasis is on avoiding or reducing the consumption of sodium, added sugars, and solid fats.

Ultimately, it sounds like reading labels, counting calories, and doing arithmetic. Not easy, not fun, and certainly not satisfying when all indicators show the body may not be responding appropriately.

Practical advice to improve dietary habits and avoid nutrient shortfalls-especially fiber, potassium, vitamin D, and calcium-is important. The Dietary Guidelines urge us to choose more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, seafood, and oils. This is good advice. But how does this differ from previous guidance?

What’s New?

Two new chapters have been included. Dietary consumption patterns are considered in one chapter. The second addresses broader environmental and social changes to support healthy eating. The latter should help guide policy, whereas the former encourages people (consumers) to assume more control over their behaviors. Most of this is logical and builds upon two themes: 1) Limit calories, and 2) Consume foods from all food groups, in nutrient-dense forms.

Appendix 12 is new. It provides a list of selected foods ranked by decreasing nutrient content for potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D-the shortfall nutrients for most Americans. And it is interesting to compare the foods selected for this list with the more-extensive USDA National Nutrient Database, SR 23 (www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search). The latter shows 35 additional foods, all with more than 738 mg of potassium per serving. Why were these dropped from the Dietary Guidelines’ appendix? Is it because of calorie content? Or sodium level?

It is interesting that 15 of these excellent sources of potassium are canned or frozen foods. When comparing the two calcium lists, if one excludes the many fortified ready-to-eat cereal options, there are fewer discrepancies-only six high-fat dairy products with over 500 mg of calcium per serving have been excluded.

However, the real challenge for consumers is finding food sources of vitamin D. The dilemma becomes more serious if you don’t eat fatty fish or are worried about risks associated with methyl mercury sometimes found in seafood. Even foods fortified with vitamin D, such as orange juice and milk, provide only 3.8 µg (136 IU) of vitamin D per serving. So it takes 4.5 servings of orange juice or milk per day to obtain the recommended daily intake of 600 IU (15 µg) of vitamin D. This amounts to 374 calories if drinking 4.5 servings of 1% milk and over 700 calories with 1% low-fat chocolate milk. Until vitamin D fortification of foods is increased, it will be very difficult to maintain optimal vitamin D status, get all essential nutrients, and maintain calorie control from food sources alone.

The Dietary Guidelines recognize that “dietary supplements or fortification of certain foods may be advantageous in specific situations to increase the intake of a specific vitamin or mineral.” Examples are provided for vitamin D, folic acid, vitamin B12, and iron supplements for pregnant women. According to surveys by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, people take dietary supplements to support overall wellness and fill nutrient gaps. Their studies show that supplement users are more likely than non-supplement users to try to incorporate other healthy habits, such as regular exercise and a balanced diet, into their lives.

In summary, everyone should maintain a healthy weight. Fortified foods and dietary supplements can be part of a healthy strategy to balance calorie intake against regular physical activity while remembering to get those essential nutrients.