Less sodium, more fish, smaller portions and -- surprise -- more fruits and vegetables were among the highlights of the updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans released earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture. The recommendations come out every five years.
"Most of us were expecting them to drop the recommended sodium levels a bit lower," said Lona Sandon, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and spokesperson of the American Dietetic Association. "These only said to reduce it to 2,300 milligrams. That's about half of what Americans are typically eating."
Sodium, she explained, raises blood pressure. But it can be counteracted by eating more potassium. That's another recommendation, as are increased amounts of fiber, calcium and vitamin D. Though bananas are known as the princes of potassium, they're not the only ones. So do potatoes, melons, peppers and citrus fruits. Plus they'll give you that recommended fiber, too.
"Fruit is so easy," Sandon said. "It comes packaged in its own organic wrapper."
As for calcium, three cups of dairy products every day is a good guideline, she said. She recommends low-fat or fat-free. As for the fish-three-times-a-week recommendation? Ditch the fried-fish sandwich. Instead, think grilled or broiled. Or think tuna. Sandon likes a can atop lettuce. Or put it in a sandwich (light on the mayo, please).
"The whole emphasis is on the issue of obesity," she said. "Focus on portion control; get away from carb-counting or fat-counting and focus on portions."
Here are some ways Sandon suggests following the guidelines (which can be seen in full at www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines):