Becky Luigart-Stayner

You have a head start if you're already making smart food choices and living an active lifestyle.

Cynthia Sans
August 15, 2008

January of 2005 brought not only a new year, but also a positiveupdate for those of us who live a healthy lifestyle every day:We're on the right track. The United States Department of Healthand Human Services released new Dietary Guidelines for Americans,which simply restated what many of us have considered our mantrafor years―eat smart, be fit, and live well. The 84-pagedocument details the nutrition and physical activityrecommendations designed to promote optimal health and preventchronic diseases. Since a healthful reminder never hurts, we askedDawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., spokesperson for the American DieteticAssociation, and exercise researcher Steven Blair, P.E.D.,president of the Cooper Institute in Dallas, to help us translatekey changes in the guidelines into simple how-tos that you can putinto practice now.

Be Calorie Smart
Between 1971 and 2000 in the United States, the average dailycalorie intake for women jumped by 335, and for men by 168.Unfortunately, those excess calories usually aren't nutritionpacked. According to the new guidelines, most of us fall short onseveral key nutrients, including calcium, vitamins A, C, and E, andfiber. The take-away message: Lower your overall calorie intake,and replace empty calorie choices with low-calorie, nutrient-densefoods.
How to make it happen: A few simple changes each day is allit takes to shave off calories and take in more nutrients. Forexample, trading a blueberry muffin for one cup of freshblueberries provides 387 fewer calories with 14 more milligrams ofvitamin C, 19 percent of the daily recommendation.

Know Your Fats
In addition to keeping your total fat intake between 20 and35 percent of your total calories, the new guidelines recommendconsuming less than 10 percent of your daily calories fromsaturated fat and taking in as few trans fats as possible. Too muchof either increases the risk of heart disease.
How to make it happen: A smart strategy is to include asmall amount of healthy fats at each meal. This will ensure thatroughly a third of the calories will come from fat. Choosingplant-based fats, such as vegetable oils, nuts, or sliced avocado,can help you keep saturated fats within reason. "To avoid trans orhydrogenated fat, choose processed foods, such as packaged cookiesand cakes, less often," Blatner says.


Being active plays a key role in reducing the risk of severaldiseases and improving mental well-being. The new guidelinesinclude specific recommendations for physical activity based onthree goals. 1) Preventing chronic diseases and maintaining healthrequires 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. 2)To prevent weight gain, adults should engage in 60 minutes ofmoderate to vigorous activity daily. 3) In order to maintain weightloss, 60 to 90 minutes of moderate activity daily is advised.
How to make it happen: You may already be doing enough."Thirty minutes of activity about five days a week is thefundamental recommendation, not the minimum," says Blair, citingdecades of research that show a half-hour of exercise providessubstantial health benefits and can also prevent weight gain. "Eachperson must determine what works for them," he says. Do whateveryou feel comfortable doing―walking or swimming, forexample―or whatever your schedule allows. As long as you'removing your body regularly, you'll reap health rewards.

Be Physically Active

Focus on Healthful Foods
Both food quantity and quality are emphasized in theguidelines, with produce, whole grains, and dairy taking centerstage. The number of cups of fruits and vegetables suggested istied to daily calories, which ranges from 1,000 to 3,200, dependingon age and activity level. For example, an adult who needs anaverage of 2,000 calories daily should aim for two cups of fruitand two and a half cups of vegetables each day. Three servings eachof whole grains and low-fat dairy products are also recommended.
How to make it happen: "You're only as healthy as your lastgrocery cart," says Blatner, who adds that the first step tomeeting the guidelines is to have healthful foods on hand. For theaverage adult, a tennis ball-sized apple or orange at breakfastmeets one fruit serving, and one cup of grapes as a snack meets theother. A small handful of spinach on a sandwich at lunch and a sidesalad at dinner takes care of the veggie quota. "Enhance vegetableswith healthy fats to bring out flavor," Blatner advises. Oil-basedsalad dressings, low-fat cheeses, such as Parmesan and feta, andchopped nuts are delicious and healthful options. Whole-graincereal with skim or low-fat milk at breakfast helps meet both thedairy and whole-grain recommendations.

Be Savvy About Sodium
The guidelines advise that you consume less than 2,300milligrams of sodium per day, the amount in one teaspoon of tablesalt. Higher intakes may lead to high blood pressure, a risk factorfor heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
How to make it happen: Keep in mind that many foodsnaturally contain sodium (one cup of skim milk has 103 milligrams),and it's added to processed foods (one cup of canned chicken noodlesoup contains 1,106 milligrams). Blatner advises skipping the saltshaker in favor of herbs and other seasonings, plus reading labelsto find packaged foods with 500 milligrams of sodium or less.

Choose Carbs Carefully
The guidelines advise selecting more high-fiber grains,fruits, and vegetables, and fewer foods made with added sugars,such as candy and soda. Total daily fiber intake should be 28 gramsfor the average adult. Fiber-rich diets are linked to a reducedrisk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and fiber supports ahealthy digestive system.
How to make it happen: One cup of fresh fruits or vegetablesprovides two to three grams of fiber, so simply meeting theguidelines' produce recommendations can put you to the halfwaymark. Beans and whole-grain versions of cereals, breads, and pastasare also good sources of fiber and low in added sugars. But eventhe most health-conscious person doesn't reach for whole grains andproduce all the time. The guidelines allow what is referred to asdiscretionary intake, meaning that for an average adult, a fewextra calories per day is OK―so don't feel guilty aboutsavoring a slice of homemade pie for dessert.

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