Feature Archive

A Changing of the Guidelines

WebMD Feature

May 8, 2000 -- Flour, eggs, whole-wheat flour, and a touch of vanilla could be the beginnings of something great to come. But if it's good health you're trying to cook up, there's no better recipe than the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Dietary Guidelines, says Cutberto Garza, MD, PhD, who is involved in writing the guidelines. These basic recommendations are modified every five years to help Americans stay healthy. Here's what's in store in the year 2000 version of the guidelines, which are currently under review by nutrition experts:

  • Adding Soy: Health officials expect to add calcium-fortified soy products to the dairy and meat groups. This move helps to quell complaints that the Dietary Guidelines and the USDA Food Guide Pyramid overemphasize dairy products, which can cause stomach upset for those who cannot digest the lactose in milk. In addition, the new guidelines include tofu and soyburgers as alternatives to meat.
  • Moderating Fat: There's a subtle yet significant change in the wording of the dietary fat recommendations. Health officials still urge Americans to limit their intake of saturated fat, but they have eased the restrictions on total fat intake. Instead of recommending "low" amounts of fat, the guidelines will specify "moderate" amounts and will encourage Americans to choose heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Drinking Alcohol: Scientists are more and more convinced that for men over 45 and women over 55, moderate alcohol consumption can help lower heart disease risk. The guidelines define "moderate" consumption as no more than one drink (12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits) per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Children and teens, problem drinkers, pregnant women, people taking certain medications, and those planning to drive or operate heavy machinery should all abstain from drinking.
  • Exercising Regularly: Diet isn't the only key to good health. Because exercise is such an important component, the new guidelines include advice on physical activity and weight management.

By their nature, the guidelines will always be a work in progress, shaped by new nutrition studies and better understanding of how Americans eat, Garza says. But behind the tinkering and the controversies, the essential message of the guidelines remains the same: Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, cut down on saturated fat, and exercise regularly.

To see the proposed Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2000, visit the USDA web site at http://www.ars.usda.gov/dgac.

Sarah Yang is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, CNN Interactive, and The San Francisco Examiner. She writes frequently for WebMD.

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