In formulating my health game plan a couple of weeks ago, I noted that sugar makes up 25% of the total calories we consume and called for a major sugar cutback to protect, restore and regain good health. I also stressed the need to be aware of how we’re constantly blindsided by unsuspected intakes of excessive salt and sugar, which are so common in processed foods.
In setting personal standards, I mentioned the World Health Organization’s recommendation that added sugar should be limited to only 5 percent of a person’s daily calories. I also recommended following the advice of experts who say that daily intake of salt should not exceed 1,500 milligrams for adults and that toddlers should not consume more than 210 milligrams of sodium per serving.
And a major report issued last week by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the pre-eminent body in shaping the country’s dietary guidelines, has underscored the importance of such a game plan.
The committee, which convenes every five years, provides the scientific basis for formulating our federal government’s official guidelines. New guidelines will be issued later this year based on the panel’s report. Recommendations by the committee include long-overdue limits on the amount of added sugar that Americans should consume, as well as recommendations for lowering salt intake.
In addition to finally going on the offensive against the overconsumption of sugar and salt, the panel stressed that Americans consume too much saturated fat and not enough foods that fit a “healthy dietary pattern,” such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and fish.
In singling out added sugar as one of its major concerns, the panel for the first time recommended specific levels we should try to maintain. It recommends that Americans limit intake to no more than 10 percent of daily calories, or approximately 12 teaspoons a day for adults, about the amount of sugar found in one can of soda pop. According to the report, Americans now consume 22 to 30 teaspoons of added sugar daily, half of which comes from soda, juices and other sugary drinks.
This bright line regarding sugar represents a major step in the right direction. Previous dietary guidelines merely included warnings about eating too much.
Five years ago, the dietary guidelines recommended that people eat less than 2,300 milligrams of salt a day. But new scientific findings on the harmful effects of too much salt could not be ignored. The new report calls for a reduction to 1,500 milligrams for people who may be at risk of heart disease.
The report, which runs 571 pages, outlines in scientific detail just how today’s American diet is having a devastating effect on public health.
As I noted a few weeks ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1980 the nation’s obesity rate among adults has doubled. Among children, it has tripled. Come to find, this may not even be the worst of the news. According to the committee, nearly a half of American adults — roughly 117 million people — currently have preventable chronic diseases related to a poor diet and physical inactivity.
It’s why the recommendations contained in this single report are so important.
Though the advisory panel does not issue the official guidelines, its report is sent to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, the agencies that publish our dietary guidelines. Historically, they have closely adhered to the panel’s recommendations.
Though the general public tends to pay little attention to these guidelines, they will shape the menus of school lunch programs, which feed 30 million children each school day, and be incorporated into all federal food assistance programs.
Equally important, they will serve as guidelines for the basic information on the nutrition facts panel on food packages. That by itself could be a game changer.
If the panel’s recommendations hold, we can expect to see manufacturers begrudgingly beginning to trim the amounts of added sugar and salt in processed foods, including snacks and cereals, long a major problem area.
This action will also fortify changes in food consumption that are already happening in this country as the healthy eating message more broadly takes hold.
According to an unrelated report this week on recent consumer habits, a shift is occurring away from weight management foods to products that more clearly list health benefits. The findings show that today’s consumers care more about ingredients that are simple to understand than they do about counting calories. According to the findings of a new Nielsen study, there is also a spending swing toward more ethnic flavors and foods that are higher in protein and gluten-free.
“As the definition of health evolves, we evolve our meals,” said a spokeswoman for ConAgra Foods Inc., manufacturers of the Healthy Choice brand.
Though we should be hopeful of soon seeing needed changes driving our overall national eating pattern in the right direction, we are not out of the woods quite yet. The panel’s recommendations are now in a 45-day public comment period, and powerful interest groups are lining up to chip away at suggested changes. Let us hope that the greater good prevails.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.