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New nutrition guidelines from the USDA

Have you checked in on the newest USDA endeavor to encourage a healthy lifestyle? New dietary guidelines were published in 2015, with deeply significant changes to what is included in a healthy diet.

The changes have been a long time coming, and were not easy to make. For decades, the recommended diet prioritized consumption of carbohydrates. Oil of any type was treated equally and relegated to a small section at the tippy-top of the pyramid. Protein was assumed to come primarily from red meat.

The new guidelines look at diverse sources for protein, not only beyond red meat, but even including some vegetarian protein sources. Cereal grains, like wheat and oats — for decades the mainstay of the US diet — are not as preeminent in the new USDA guidelines, superseded by a recommendation for a more varied consumption of grain.

Nuts, once demonized as a fattening, unhealthy snack, are touted by the USDA as a source for protein and essential vitamins. The FDA guidelines for labeling foods as “healthy” is at odds with this recommendation, and recently gave rise to some controversy. According to the FDA, “healthy” is only allowed to be used when foods contain 3 grams or less of fat and 1 gram or less of saturated fat. Nuts still provide essential nutrients and are a great source for good oils, but as with any food should be eaten in moderation.

In fact, the good news in the new USDA guidelines is diversity of food sources. According to the recommendations, sources of protein should be more varied than simply choosing “beef or pork”, with more of an emphasis on fish and poultry. Vegetables and whole fruits should make up a full half of the standard adult diet. Beans and legumes are also valued as a source for both protein and carbohydrates.

When it comes to dairy, the old image of a glass of milk with every meal is no longer quite so prominent. While dairy is still a welcome part of a healthy diet, it has much less emphasis than previously. The new guidelines recommend fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese.

While not a food group, oils can provide essential nutrients. But the USDA recommends that only small amounts of oils are consumed as part of your diet. Most of the fats you eat should be polyunsaturated (PUFA) or monounsaturated (MUFA) fats. Because oils contain certain essential fatty acids, some oils can be included in your diet. Just be sure to choose oils from fish, nuts and vegetable, since these don’t raise the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood.

Interestingly, the diet model most cited is the Mediterranean Diet, with its emphasis on vegetables and beans instead of grains and proteins. Good news for the gluten free community! With more emphasis in the mainstream marketplace on grain and seed alternatives to the traditional cereal and grass grains, it should mean more availability of foods appropriate for a gluten free diet.

ChooseMyPlate, the online manifestation of the new guidelines, offers tons of easy-to-use tools for discovering healthy options for your plate. Both meal planning and tracking tools are available. In some regards, there’s a section for everyone — but no information for those with dietary restrictions. In fact, the only mention of allergies is for lactose intolerance. In addition to a robust website, the USDA has also funneled resources into social media. For continuing updates, you can follow their efforts @MyPlate on twitter and Facebook, both of which are robust sources for recipes and updates to the site.

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