view current print edition




New Dietary Guidelines report emphasizes plant-based diet

by Joan Murphy | June 20, 2010
WASHINGTON -- The 2010 Dietary Guidelines should recommend that Americans shift their food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, according to a new report delivered June 15 to top Obama administration officials.

Every five years, the federal government names an advisory panel to scrutinize the latest science and make nutritional recommendations to the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Health & Human Services that later become the Dietary Guidelines.

"The advisory report will provide USDA and HHS with a strong foundation for preparing the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which will be released by the end of this year," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a joint statement issued June 15.

The long-awaited report makes four major recommendations to help Americans meet nutrition goals:

* Reduce the incidence and prevalence of overweight and obesity by reducing overall calorie intake, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and increasing physical activity.

* Shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In addition, increase the intake of seafood as well as fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products and consume only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry and eggs.

* Significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars, solid fats and sodium as well as lower intake of refined grains, especially refined grains that are coupled with added sugar, solid fat and sodium.

* Meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

"The report just made fruits and vegetables more important than ever before," Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health at the United Fresh Produce Association, told The Produce News after scanning the new recommendations.

She said that the report emphasizes the role of fruits and vegetables in preventing childhood obesity and maintaining a healthy diet.

Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Produce Marketing Association, agreed that the advisory committee's report is good news for the industy.

"In three of the four priority areas the committee listed, fruits and vegetables can figure prominently -reducing calories, moving to a more plant-based diet and avoiding foods with added sugars and fat," said Ms. Means.

"I was also pleased to see that they recommend looking at eating behaviors in addition to what consumers eat," Ms. Means added. "Take snacking as an example of an eating behavior. It would be great to help consumers shift to healthier snacks like fresh fruits and vegetables."

Ms. DiSogra said that the report will arm the produce industry with more ammunition to move the federal government closer to doubling fruits and vegetables in federally assisted school meals.

"The Dietary Guidelines are critical to the food industry because they become the basis for all nutrition assistance and nutrition education programs" at the two agencies, Ms. DiSogra explained.

For the first time, the report includes a "call to action" that reflects the panel's frustration with government policies such as outdated school meal rules and farm requirements that act as barriers to increasing fruit and vegetable consumption.

"For example, recommended intakes of vegetables and fruit remain woefully unchanged, despite continuing advice to markedly increase intake of these foods," according to the report, which recommends that USDA and HHS develop a national strategy to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables.

The 13-member panel is saying, "do something different" to change people's eating patterns, added Ms. DiSogra.

Federal officials are planning a public meeting July 8 on the report's recommendations and will consider comments until July 15.