The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 come close to what Michael Pollan advised in his book, “Food Rules”:  Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

A bit more prosaically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture puts it this way: “Enjoy your food, but eat less … make half your plate fruits and vegetables.”

Cutting down on salt and stepping up physical activity also are emphasized in the latest edition of the government’s guidelines, released Monday. The guidelines, which must be updated every five years by federal law, influence school breakfast and lunch menus as well as the information food makers put on nutrition labels.

Among the 23 recommendations:

— Enjoy your food, but eat less.

— Avoid oversized portions.

— Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

— Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk.

— Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals — and choose the foods with lower numbers.

— Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

— Salt intake: no more than 2,300 milligrams per day, no more than 1,500 mg for those who are 51 and older, African Americans, have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.  (Current U.S. average is 3,400 mg of salt per day.)

— Less than 10 percent of calories should come from saturated fats, replace them with “good fats” like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

— Replace some meat and poultry with seafood.

“The 2010 Dietary Guidelines are being released at a time when the majority of adults and one in three children is overweight or obese and this is a crisis that we can no longer ignore,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “The bottom line is that most Americans need to trim our waistlines to reduce the risk of developing diet-related chronic disease.”

At a press conference in Washington, D.C., accompanied by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Vilsack said he never paid much attention to the guidelines before becoming Agriculture Secretary. After realizing his own diet was “a long way” from the federal recommendations, he changed his eating habits. “Personally my life has changed,” Vilsack told reporters.

Reaction to the new guidelines was mostly positive.

“I’m in shock. I never would have believed they could pull this off,” wrote Marion Nestle in her  Food Politics blog. “The new guidelines recognize that obesity is the number one public health nutrition problem in America and actually give good advice about what to do about it:  eat less and eat better.  For the first time, the guidelines make it clear that eating less is a priority.”

On Twitter, Dr. Neal Barnard, a founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said, “guidelines are the most veg-friendly yet, with 2 full pages of veg and vegan nutrition.”

United Fresh Produce Association, the big industry group, called the “half a plate” visual “the strongest and most compelling message to ever come out of Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services about fruits and vegetables.” 

Not to be left out, the American Meat Institute weighed in saying the new guidelines “affirm that meat and poultry products are important components of a balanced, healthy diet.”

“It is noteworthy that the government’s previous recommendation that consumers eat five to seven ounces from the meat, poultry and beans group will remain unchanged, said the group’s executive vice president, James Hodges, adding that the meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts food group is the only group that Americans consume in the recommended amount.

The seafood industry seized on the new guidelines to urge the Food and Drug Administration to update its 2004 advice on mercury. Misinterpretation of that warning may be contributing to lower consumption of fish, worries the National Fisheries Institute, which said the new Dietary Guidelines “provide the scientific rationale for the health benefits” of making seafood a regular part of meals.

Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, pointed out that for 30 years the Dietary Guidelines have offered basically the same sensible advice, and only about 10 percent of Americans have paid any attention to it.


Given the aggressive marketing of junk food and “the ubiquity of foods laden with calories, saturated fat, salt, white flour and added sugars,” Wootan applauded the new guidelines in their calls for “an immediate deliberate reduction in the sodium content of foods and for effective policies to limit food and beverage marketing to children.”

But without even more serious efforts by the government, such as banning artificial trans fat and limiting salt in packaged foods, Wootan said, “the Dietary Guidelines will not be sufficient to fend off the costly and debilitating diet-related illnesses affecting millions of Americans.”

The guidelines were drafted by an advisory panel that reviewed the latest scientific literature on nutrition, health and exercise and considered public comments and testimony.  The last guidelines, in 2005, stressed eating more whole grains and less sugar.