Make Every Bite Count

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Eating healthy, or at least trying to eat a little more healthful, is a goal for most people. But conflicting information surrounds and bombards us every day. This may leave us all wondering who to believe and even possibly giving up on the whole complex subject.

Please don’t give up on the idea! We know that there is a link between what you eat and your health. One place you can look for simple basic healthy food recommendations is the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. These guidelines are evidence-based nutrition recommendations for all Americans. This includes those who are healthy, those at risk for diet-related diseases, and those living with these diseases.

Let me give you a little background on these guidelines. This is the latest version. It is actually the eighth guideline publication. The first was back in 1980 and if you go back into the history, you’ll see how they have changed over the years. The whole idea is to look at the current scientific research in nutrition and health and then make recommendations for all Americans based on these known factors. They are revised every five years based on the latest research and also on trends in how Americans are eating. This 2020-2025 edition was just released.

Even though these guidelines have been around for all these years, we’re not going a great job of following them. There is a research tool called the Healthy Eating Index, this measures how well our diets align with the Dietary Guidelines. The average American diet scores only 59 out of 100 on this index. We have a long way to go!

These new guideline tells us to “make every bite count”. While it is a great slogan it does really describe how a healthy (healthier) diet would look. These new guidelines focus on choosing healthy foods and beverages rich in nutrients, all while staying within your calorie limit.

The key components:

  • Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every age. This is the first time the guidelines have made recommendations across the lifespan. The edition also emphasizes that it is never too early or too late to eat healthy!
  • Enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect what you like, fit into your customs, and also your budget. But note the keywords here: nutrient-dense. This means the foods provide needed nutrients to keep you healthy. The nutrient-dense food list included vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, seafood, lean meat and poultry, egg, plant-based proteins, nuts and seeds, and low-fat or fat-free dairy. Limit added sugars to less than 10% of calories per day for ages 2 and older and to avoid added sugars for infants and toddlers. This didn’t change from the last version. This means if you’re eating 2000 calories a day, only 200 calories should come from added sugar. Tip: one 12-ounce can of soda contains 150 calories… so this limit is easy to go over.
  • Limit saturated fat to less than 10% of calories per day starting at age 2. The calculation is the same as sugar, this means to limit your saturated fat to less than 200 calories worth a day. Tip: a tablespoon of butter has 66 calories worth of saturated fat.
  • Limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day (or even less if younger than 14). Tip: one teaspoon of table salt has 2300 mg of sodium.
  • Limit alcoholic beverages to two drinks or fewer per day for men and one drink or less a day for women.

Back to the “make every bite count”. When you eat nutrient-dense foods, they are high in vitamins, minerals, and often fiber. These foods are not full of sugar, fat or sodium. If you’re eating foods that are rich in nutrients, there is very little leeway for those extra calories. About 85% of the calories that we eat every day are needed for foods rich in nutrients. That leaves only a small amount or about 15% left over for added sugars, saturated fat, and alcohol.

The Dietary Guidelines purposely provide recommendations by food groups and not saying one food is better than another. The idea here is that we and should make our own decisions selecting healthy foods, beverages, meals, and snacks but based on this healthy framework.

The goal is for Americans to develop a healthy pattern of eating, not just healthy choices here and there…. it takes one bite at a time.

Source: Dietary Guidelines

Cheryle Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science staff member and originally wrote this article to be featured in her column at the Brunswick Beacon. She can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center by phone 910-253-2610 or by email at Cheryle_Syracuse@ncsu.edu.