The government is ditching the famous food pyramid for a dinner plate as part of the latest changes to USDA dietary guidelines. Everydayhealth.com offers the new rules:
New Food Rule 1: Eat the Most Nutrient-Dense Foods
Why change: Americans consume far too many "empty calories" - those that lack good-for-you nutrients like whole grains, lean protein, vitamins, and minerals. "About 260 calories in a 2,000-calorie daily diet could be from indulgences like cookies or soda. But the typical American eats closer to 600 to 800 empty calories a day.
Nutrient-dense foods are described as "foods that in their prepared state have significantly more nutrients per calorie. For example, for the same amount of calories as soda, fat-free or low-fat milk offers calcium, vitamins, minerals, and protein, where soda has none. Fill half your plate at any given meal with vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, which are naturally nutrient dense. Skip add-ons like batters, breading, and butter, and choose sauces and dressings wisely, like vinaigrettes made with healthy olive oil instead of full-fat dressings. Opt for a baked potato instead of French fries, grilled chicken instead of fried, brown rice instead of white rice, and low-fat milk instead of whole milk or soda. But remember that nutrient-dense doesn't always mean low-calorie. The key is displacing empty calories with nutritious, filling calories.
New Food Rule 2: Eat Fewer Solid Fats and Added Sugars
Why the change: Solid fats and added sugars have no. Solid fats include butter, stick margarine, and meat fats. Added sugars are commonly found in packaged goods such as grain-based snacks and desserts, soda, energy drinks, and juice "drinks."
What you can do: Trim fat from meat, remove skin from poultry, and use less table sugar. Watch for sneaky sugar in food, like ketchup. Read ingredient lists of packaged foods for tip-off words like corn syrup, sucrose, sugar, honey, syrup, and dextrose. If you spot them in the first few ingredients, avoid the food or eat it less frequently.
Treat desserts, sugar-sweetened sodas, and candy as treats - not as everyday foods. Or rethink your definition of dessert: Try a bowl of fruit with an ice cream topping, rather than a bowl of ice cream with fruit topping.
New Food Rule 3: Eat More Seafood
Why change: Seafood is rich in heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which the typical American diet sorely lacks. The new food guidelines recommend consuming at least 8 ounces of fish, shellfish, and other types of seafood every week (the 2005 guidelines did not recommend a specific amount of fish).
What you can do: Swap out your usual meat or poultry dinner twice a week for seafood. A 4-ounce serving of fish is smaller than you might think - it looks like a deck of cards. Pick fish that's high in omega-3s but low in mercury, such as salmon, trout, or herring.
Pregnant women should eat fish too, but it's especially important to pick low-mercury varieties (in large amounts the heavy metal has been linked to health problems). If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, limit your intake of white tuna (albacore) to 6 ounces per week, and and don't eat tilefish, shark, swordfish, or king mackerel, which can be high in mercury. If you're concerned about the mercury content in tuna, use canned salmon instead for your sandwiches or casseroles.
How to get your kids to eat it? Grill salmon burgers instead of hamburgers or toss teriyaki tuna strips onto a salad.
New Food Rule 4: Show Red Veggies Some Love
Why change: The previous food guidelines mentioned orange, but not red, vegetables. Now the two have been combined into one veggie sub-group. The guidelines recommend eating more of this group, along with dark-green veggies and beans and peas. Remember red vegetables include tomatoes and red peppers, both great sources of vitamin C, lycopene ,other antioxidants, and other nutrients.
What you can do: Most people should eat five-and-a-half cups cups of red and orange vegetables each week. To get the most nutritional bang for your buck, keep in mind that your body is better able to absorb lycopene, the fat-soluble antioxidant in red peppers and tomatoes, in the presence of oil.
Lycopene is important because it may improve heart health and lower the risk of cancers like breast and prostate cancer. Keep a supply of jarred red peppers in oil and add them to sandwiches, salads, stir-fries, and omelets for a flavorful nutrient boost.
Tomato sauce is another easy way to boost your red veggie intake, but the ready-made stuff can be loaded with added salt. Look for jars with 300 or fewer milligrams of salt per serving. Some stores even carry no-salt-added versions. And think beyond the usual suspects to red varieties of vegetables such as red cabbage, beans, and Swiss chard. Red cabbage and beans contain anthocyanins, plant chemicals that show promise in preventing heart disease and cancer and protecting brain health. Red beans are the most fiber-rich vegetable in the world, Grotto says.
New Food Rule 5: Eat More Fruit Every Day
Why change: Here's why, only 42 percent of Americans eat the two cups of fruit per day that are recommended for someone on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Choosing fruit over less-healthy snacks will automatically make your diet more nutrient-dense and lower in calories. All fruits are healthy, but berries are among the best – gram for gram, they're jam-packed with nutrients for very few calories. One cup of whole strawberries has about 50 calories and contains elagic acid that may help the lining of your arteries become more pliable, which could help prevent atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
What you can do: The best way to work more fruits into your diet is to have them ready to go: peeled, cut up, and mixed together in individual serving containers in your fridge.
At least half of your fruit should be in whole fruit form - fresh, frozen, or canned if it's packed in 100 percent fruit juice - because whole fruit contains fiber that juice doesn't. You can get the rest of your fruit from 100 percent fruit juices, such as orange juice. Eat fruit for snacks or dessert, add it to salads, and use it in place of sugar, syrups, and other
sweet toppings for cereal and pancakes.
New Food Rule 6: Vegetarianism and Veganism Can Be Healthy
Why change: For the first time, the dietary guidelines include a model for healthy vegetarian and vegan eating. With proper planning, you can get enough protein from dairy, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and nuts and seeds, and other nutrients from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
What you can do: Not surprisingly, the biggest concern with meat-free diets is getting enough protein. You'll need to replace meat with other foods that qualify as complete proteins - which means they contain all of the essential amino acids. Complete proteins include dairy, eggs, soy (such as tofu and edamame), and certain grains, such as amaranth and quinoa.
Watch out for the salt: Veggie burgers and other frozen meat substitutes can be packed with sodium. Vegans, and vegetarians who don't get enough dairy and eggs, may also be deficient in certain nutrients, namely vitamins B12 and D, calcium, and iron, so it's a good idea to talk to a registered dietitian, who may recommend that you take supplements or make other changes to your diet.