February is American Heart Month. This month the GW Heart & Vascular Institute is discussing new dietary guidelines to improve overall eating patterns. Dr. Richard Katz sat down with the Institute's registered dietician, Kelli Metzger, for a Q&A session on the recently published guidelines. Making healthy diet and lifestyle choices help in the fight against heart disease.
The latest Dietary Guidelines for 2015-2020 were recently published in January 2016. Is this information different than the last publication?
Each set of Guidelines is based on the latest scientific evidence. The recommendations are designed to help individuals improve and maintain overall health and to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Previous editions of the Guidelines may have focused on specific foods or nutrients. This version, however, looks at eating patterns as a whole.
Food and beverages contribute calories, nutrients, and sometimes added sugars to the diet. For this reason, we should be aware of the contribution our food and beverage choices make to our overall health. We should consume more nutrient dense foods and beverages and limit those high in added sugars and other empty calories.
You said eating patterns. Does that mean foods are more important than beverages?
Nutrient dense foods contain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients with little or no added solid fats or sugars, refined starches, or sodium. Nutrient dense foods usually have positive health effects and include fruit, vegetables, whole grains, seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, and legumes.
What is a nutrient dense food?
Yes, the Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming less than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat, less than 10 percent of total calories from added sugars, and less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. For someone consuming 2,000 calories, that means no more than 50 grams of added sugar and less than 22 grams of saturated fat.
So we are supposed to eat more nutrient dense foods. Are there foods we should eat less?
Milk and fruit contain naturally occurring sugars and are fine to include in the diet in moderate amounts. Some items such as fruit juice and yogurt may contain both natural and added sugars. For example, cranberry juice contains natural sugar, but many people find it tart so companies tend to add more sugar to make it sweeter.
I know that foods such as fruit and milk contain sugars. Are these part of the added sugars the Guidelines are talking about?
The number of calories required depends on several factors including gender, age, and activity level. There are charts on the Dietary Guidelines website to help choose the best calorie level. For example, a 50 year old moderately-active male can eat about 2,400 calories per day and maintain his weight. Because women are often smaller with less muscle mass, they typically require fewer calories than men. A 50 year old moderately active female can maintain weight on 1,800 calories per day.
How do I know how many calories I should consume in a day?
What if you are trying to lose weight?
That is a good question since for the past 25 years, over half of the adult population has been overweight or obese. Presently more than 2/3 of the US population is overweight or obese. Most people can lose 1-1 ½ lbs per week by reducing their calorie consumption by 500-750 calories per day.
Are there recommendations for exercise as well?
Yes, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that children ages 6-17 should get at least an hour of physical activity per day. Exercise should include aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening activities. Adults should have at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity as well as muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice per week. Some studies have shown that adults trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss should exercise closer to an hour per day.
Are there ways to track eating and exercise habits?
Yes, there are many ways to track both. Eating habits can be tracked with traditional pen and paper or apps such as MyFitnessPal.com, LoseIt.com, SparkPeople.com, S Health, and more. Exercise can be tracked through some of these same methods as well as pedometers, FitBits, Garmin vivofit, Jawbone, and other similar devices.