Dining Services responds to new US guidelines on healthy eating

| Contributing Reporter

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010

Maintain a calorie balance over time to achieve and sustain a healthy weight

  • Improve eating and physical activity behaviors.
  • Control calorie intake to manage body weight.
  • Reduce sedentary behaviors and increase physical activity.
  • Consume appropriate number of calories for each life stage.

Focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages

  • Reduce sodium intake.
  • Replace saturated fatty acids with unsaturated fatty acids.
  • Consume less than 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol each day.
  • Limit trans fat consumption.
  • Consume fewer calories from solid fats and added sugars.
  • Increase whole grain consumption and decrease intake of refined grains.
  • Consume alcohol in moderation if consuming at all.
  • Increase fruit and vegetable consumption.
  • Consume fat-free or low-fat milk products.
  • Choose a variety of proteins, including fish, beans, nuts and seeds.
  • Replace fatty proteins with lower-fat proteins (like seafood).

As federal officials emphasize the importance of healthy eating, the newly released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans challenge Washington University dining menus to meet higher standards.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services have administered new guidelines out of concern for Americans’ overall health, as obesity, heart disease and other illnesses linked to food have become increasingly prevalent in the last decade.

Washington University Dining Services will work with these new guidelines to continue providing healthy options for students.

The government agencies advise Americans to curb overeating habits to maintain the proper caloric intake specific to their age and physical condition.

The report recommends that half of each plate contain fruits and vegetables. It also encourages eating whole grains with daily meals and choosing foods with higher amounts of potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D.

Americans are also encouraged to vary protein in their diets and to consume more fat-free and low-fat milk products.

Although sodium intake recommendations have not changed since 2005, the report continues to warn against high intake, setting 2,300 milligrams as the maximum daily amount. It also advises a reduced intake of 1,500 milligrams for African Americans, people with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, or those older than 51.

This is the first time the government has advised people to eat less. The report directly advises the American people that they should drink water, not soda, and manage their caloric intake.

The report cited concerns that 72 percent of men and 64 percent of women are overweight, while approximately one-third of all citizens are obese.

“Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 is being released at a time of rising concern about the health of the American population,” the report said. “Its recommendations accommodate the reality that a large percentage of Americans are overweight or obese and/or at risk of various chronic disease.”

This year’s guidelines are considered to be the strongest ever released.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has promoted the new guidelines and shared his hopes for Americans of all ages.

“The bottom line is that most Americans need to trim our waistlines to reduce the risk of developing diet-related chronic disease,” Vilsack told The New York Times. “Improving our eating habits is not only good for every individual and family, but also for our country.”

According to Connie Diekman, director of University nutrition, Washington University sees healthy eating as a priority and works to provide students with nutritious choices.

“We have used the dietary guidelines to plan menus since I have been with the University,” Diekman said. “We will use the 2010 guidelines as we make menu and recipe changes.”

The University is shifting toward offering a wider variety of healthier options, and adding more fruits and vegetables is an area in which it continues to improve. Although pasta, pizza and salads are the primary dishes with vegetables, University chefs are working to develop more entrées that include vegetables. Meanwhile, steamed vegetables are available in all dining locations on campus and can be added as a side to complement vegetable-deficient dishes.

In addition to selling fresh fruit, Dining Services incorporates fruit in salsas, prepackaged salads and pastries. Dining Services also hopes that “Connie’s Choice,” a brand-new healthy option initiative, will make it easier for students to eat well.

While the University frames its menus around the 2,300-milligram recommended maximum daily intake of sodium, some items have more sodium than the recommended amount. Because students request these dishes, they are still on the menu.

“Our goal is to offer options that allow our students to eat in a manner that helps them follow the guidelines,” Diekman said. “It’s a combined responsibility. The options have to be there, but the individuals make the choices. This is no different from the decisions, in my perspective, of, ‘Should I go out this weekend, or should I do those five papers?’”

While some students grumble over reduced portion sizes, others complain about the inaccessibility of healthy choices. Diekman concluded that the University wants to do what is best for its students and seeks to attain a happy medium among student demands.

“We will never be able to please everyone all the time,” Diekman said. “Therefore, our goal is to provide the options that students indicate they’d like to have, to provide the information to help those who want to make better choices make those choices, and then to listen to their feedback. We’re doing what we think is a good way to help students eat healthier, but if you have better suggestions, we want to know them.”