“You are what you eat.”

Generally speaking, that is very true. If you eat healthfully (that means, according to Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food”: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”) you are more likely to have a normal BMI and lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more; if you don’t eat healthfully, well…

Let’s face it: with all the resources we have and all the food choices available to us, Americans don’t eat very healthfully. David Johnson reports on one commonly cited survey saying Americans eat too little “good foods.” Using new federal dietary guidelines released by the USDA last week:

  • 87% of Americans consume less than the recommended 2½ cups of vegetables per day.
  • 75% of Americans consume less than the recommended 2 cups of fruits per day.
  • 86% of Americans consume less than the recommended 3 cups of dairy per day.
  • 72% of Americans consume less than the recommended 27 g of oils per day.
  • 44% of Americans consume less than the recommended 6 oz of grains per day.
  • 42% of Americans consume less than the recommended 5½ oz of proteins per day.


From a health standpoint, these statistics may be our biggest downfall:

  • 89% of Americans consume more than the recommended limit of 2,300 mg of sodium per day. That’s about one teaspoon of salt.
  • 71% of Americans consume more than the recommended limit of 200 calories of saturated fat per day.
  • 70% of Americans consume more than the recommended limit of 200 calories of added sugars per day.


Alexandra Sifferlin breaks down the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 (Eighth Edition)”:

Overall, the 2015 Guidelines advise Americans to follow an eating pattern that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, grains (at least half of which should be whole), a variety of proteins (including lean meats, seafood, nuts), and oils…

The guidelines also recommend Americans stay below a specific cap on saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium. Specifically, the guidelines say Americans should consume less than 10% of their daily calories from added sugars—the cap on sugar is a first for the guidelines—as well as less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fats, and less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium. The guidelines also continue to recommend low- and no-fat dairy products, which some critics contend is outdated advice.

No limit is explicitly recommended for the consumption of red meat or processed meat, despite recent reports that these foods have been strongly linked to health problems, including heart disease and cancer…


As you might have expected, the usual suspects of health, nutrition, and industry experts praised and vilified the new guidelines that were published last week, with no one really loving them. Sifferlin got ten of these experts to weigh in on the new recommendations and only one was all positive:

“With obesity and its associated health consequences—namely type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease—on the rise throughout our country, the AMA also is extremely pleased that the new recommendations call for significantly reducing the amount of added sugars and sugar sweetened beverages from the American diet. The AMA has been working hard over the last two years to prevent the incidence of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, both of which are linked to excessive sugar consumption, and we will continue to support efforts aimed at improving the health of the nation.”—Dr. Steven J. Stack, President, American Medical Association.


When you get right down to it, the new guidelines don’t break any new ground; they don’t tell us anything we didn’t know before:

  • We eat too much food. (Too many calories.)
  • We eat too much sugar and salt, mostly in prepared meals, processed snack foods, and soft drinks.
  • We need to eat more “real” food for meals and snacks — fruits, vegetables, whole grains, unprocessed plant oils, lean (unprocessed) proteins, and drink more water.


The best way to achieve this is to be a mindful shopper (make a thoughtful list, no impulse buys), prepare more meals at home (get handy in the kitchen), and eat and snack on less processed foods (food “products” that come in packages and have ingredients more suited for your child’s chemistry lab than your food) that have less sugar, salt, and chemicals.

In other words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”


Learn more about nutrition with “Taste Buds” on The PediaBlog here.