The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released in late January, bringing new recommendations for how Americans should eat. Breaking with the past, the most recent Dietary Guidelines are the first to address a primarily overweight and unhealthy population. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee provided “science-based advice for Americans, in order to promote health and to reduce the risk for major chronic diseases through diet and physical activity.” Their advice and subsequent recommendations include:
- Managing weight by balancing calories and physical activity
- Reducing consumption of foods and food components high in saturated fat, sodium, refined grains and added sugars
- Increasing consumption of foods and nutrients that provide needed nutrients
Some of the food components Americans are recommended to reduce include saturated and trans fats, which are also known as “solid fats” because they are generally in solid form at room temperature. Conversely, Americans are encouraged to consume more unsaturated fats, while not exceeding their recommended total fat intake. Unsaturated fats are also known as “liquid oils,” as they are generally in a liquid form at room temperature. By replacing “solid fats” with “liquid oils,” potential health risks could be decreased or even avoided, as the mono- and polyunsaturated fats in “liquid oils” are associated with lower levels of total and LDL cholesterol and cardiovascular protection.
A critical health issue related to dietary fat is the type of fat, as opposed to simply the amount, of the fat in the American diet. Diets high in saturated and trans fatty acids are associated with blood lipid profiles that increase risk of cardiovascular disease. It is important to help the public understand that the type of fat they consume matters as they strive to lead healthy lifestyles that include sensible, balanced diets.
It is a noticeably different message from the one received in the 1990s with the recommendation of a “diet low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.” As such, it may prove to be a complex message to communicate to the public. The terms “solid fat” and “liquid oils” may make sense when one thinks of fats in meat and poultry or butter versus vegetable oil in their kitchen, but how that translates to prepared foods or even cooking methods remains to be seen. There is certainly an opportunity for registered dietitians, health professionals and other stakeholders to enhance communications in this area: to help people let go of the “low-fat” idea and move toward incorporating more healthful fats (liquid oils) into their diets to replace those “solid fats.” It is important for people to consider the types of fats in their diets, while balancing caloric intake to meet their daily needs. When it comes to fats and good health, the key is to choose unsaturated fat and stay within individual calorie needs.
Liquid oils that are naturally high in unsaturated fats include soybean, corn, sunflower, olive and canola oils. Examples of foods that contain unsaturated fats are avocados, nuts and fish. These foods that are high in unsaturated fats should be incorporated into the diet to replace those that are higher in saturated and trans fats (solid fats), such as butter, lard, whole milk, full-fat cheese products, vegetable shortening, deeply marbled cuts of meat, and stick margarines.
Although foods containing fat are commonly categorized as either unsaturated or saturated fats, they are actually made up of a combination of fatty acids. It can be confusing to determine and understand what constitutes a food that is high or low in a type of fatty acid, but the graph below provides the “fatty acid profile,” or the proportion of the various fatty acids, for a number of common foods. If the public can better determine which foods contain which types of fatty acids, they will have less difficulty replacing those that are high in saturated and trans fats with those higher in unsaturated fats.
SOURCE: The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans policy document; Chapter 3; Figure 3-3
The image below indicates the primary sources of saturated fat intake in the American diet, which can provide a starting point for where the public can make reductions.
SOURCE: the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans policy document; Chapter 3; Figure 3-4
Some simple ways to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats are to cook using vegetable oils rather than butter, lard or shortening, and to eat fish or skinless poultry or pork in place of fatty meat. One can reduce saturated fat consumption by opting to bake or broil food rather than fry it and switch from whole milk and full-fat dairy products to their low-fat or non-fat counterparts.
According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is vitally important for Americans to strive to consume a varied and balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat/non-fat dairy, while limiting those foods that are high in sugars, sodium, and saturated and trans fat in moderation, in line with calorie needs and with increased physical activity. There are many resources to help Americans maintain a healthful diet and lifestyle, including:
- MyPlate’s Interactive Tools
- The USDA Food Plans
- USDA’s Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply
- The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- IFIC Foundation’s Healthy Kids and Families Section
- The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
With such variety, there is something for everyone. The key is determining which resources work better to help individual consumers choose products low in saturated and trans fats and higher in unsaturated fats, while maintaining a nutritionally balanced diet and a healthful lifestyle.