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.

  • This is great news. Whilst I would not approve of their guidelines to the letter, it’s really good that they’re moving in the right direction.
    At the end of the day, this is the best that could be hoped for from the government. There are too many interests and too much conservatism to come out and say what they really know about what we should and shouldn’t be eating.

  • Doc Mudd

    “Eat less”
    Seems the politically correct pendulum has swung from an obsession with anorexia to an obsession with obesity.
    But, mainly we’re just obsessed with minutely picking apart our food and its ingredients, recoiling in horror at conflated food ‘issues’. Isn’t that basically the definition of orthorexia?
    But it sure does sell books, though, doesn’t it Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Alice Waters, Jane Goodall, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum.

  • ecofoodologist

    It is a fair bit of good news to balance their bending to the WalMartization of BigAg, GE consumables, which have served as a great amusement for the last twenty years. It’s nice that we trained a lot of geneticists and there is plenty of worthy work for them. Let’s not waste great minds chasing the promise of eliminating hunger by producing more cheaper food. It is a farce that we should have recognized after synthetic fertilizers didn’t do the job. Check this out:
    Thanks to Ms. Rothschild for good reporting but this is a bit of classic knowledge retold. If you eat real food and consume no more calories than you use you don’t become obese.
    Do we really need to see the First Lady next to a WalMart logo to kick off this non-news. This is the bone, that we are thrown by the Administration, while they hand BigAg control of Organic Certification. While the urban food deserts are saturated with GE Organics (a bittersweet victory) real food will have to compete at the junk food price point. The winner in 15 years will be, you guessed it, Monsanto!
    And at some point we will learn together what happens when the lab tested, engineered genes are exposed to real field conditions for several years in a changing climate. But not to worry, Monsanto will have some new seeds for us to experiment with if the others don’t survive. We gamble our future to the gain of Big Ag. ef

  • ecofoodologist

    It was late and I forgot give sincere thanks to all those who work so hard for what I called a “bone.” That expression is with great respect for the effort of getting this public concession that “healthy food is a good thing.” I am only offended by the resistance met, by so many brilliant and hard working people, from corporations, politicians and their misinformed, unhealthy constituents to report and support conclusions that most of our grandparents understood. ef

  • Doc Mudd

    Well, Ecofoo, my grandparents understood that ‘you eat to live’ not ‘live to eat’. They neither worshiped nor feared food. They led long, full lives and had little tolerance for ninnies feigning orthorexic anxiety attacks.
    Your opinion that food is too cheap is duly noted, so when you say “healthy food is a good thing”, don’t you really mean ‘wealthy good is a food thing’? Basically, that food can only be properly appreciated if it is overpriced and exclusive? My grandparents would have summarily disabused you of that silly notion, I reckon.

  • ecofoodologist

    Doc Mudd Your hostility causes me to be curious what you live to do. Our grandparents would probably agree on a lot of things about food. They lived in an age when most people could distinguish good food from junk, none of the venerable eight would have eaten the junk that you defend so vehemently.
    BTW, eight grandparents is the proper number not eight and a geneticist creativity. It ensures hardy varieties via sexual reproduction. I invite you to poison yourself with frankenfoods in your basement, but don’t take away real food in my free market economy. ef