Get the Most Bang for Your Buck
from the Dietary Guidelines
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are intended to provide a framework for making healthy food choices. Now researchers are taking a closer look at the most recent version (2005) to track how well people are following them and how following these guidelines impacts health.
The finer points of the Dietary Guidelines
Researchers collected information on eating habits from 224 postmenopausal women with coronary artery disease and used the Dietary Guidelines Adherence Index (DGAI) to determine how closely each woman followed the guidelines. They used a test called quantitative angiography to determine progression (worsening) of coronary disease throughout the study period. An additional measure, called the weighted DGAI (wDGAI), measured which specific dietary guidelines had the biggest impact on disease progression.
The DGAI includes measures of calories eaten each day and daily intake of dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, legumes (beans and peas), other vegetables, starchy vegetables, meat, total grains, whole grains, dairy products, added sugar, fiber, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, low-fat products, sodium (salt), and alcohol.
After three years, the study yielded the following results:
No woman followed all Dietary Guidelines perfectly, suggesting that many people have difficulty meeting them on a day-to-day basis.
Adherence to the Dietary Guidelines as a whole was not associated with progression of coronary artery disease in this group of women.
However, three dietary factors were identified as being important for preventing heart disease from progressing: eating more whole grains and eating less total fat and cholesterol.
Putting it into practice
This study suggests that for heart disease, we should focus on eating more whole grains and less fat and cholesterol. This study did not look at other chronic diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, but to protect your health overall, your best bet is to meet as many of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as you can.
Try the following tips to put these study findings into practice in your life:
(1) To identify which grain products are made with whole grains look for the word “enriched” in the ingredient list. If you see “enriched,” it is not a whole grain.
(2) Make your bread, cereal, pasta, and starchy side dish choices whole grains. For example, eat whole grain cereal or plain oatmeal for breakfast, make your sandwiches with whole grain bread, choose whole grain pasta over regular pasta, and try brown rice instead of white.
(3) To keep the fat in your diet low:
- Enjoy chicken and fish more often, and if you eat red meat, go for lean cuts.
- Avoid high-fat, processed foods, such as chips, crackers, cookies, pastries, donuts, and other snack foods.
- Only enjoy high-fat dairy such as cheese, ice cream, butter, and whole milk, as an occasional treat (no more than 2 to 3 times per week for all foods combined).
- Go light on the oil when cooking on the stovetop.
- To keep the cholesterol in your diet low, limit egg yolks to less than three per week and avoid high-fat red and processed meats.
(Am J Clin Nutr 2009;90:1–9; Am J Clin Nutr 2009;90:1–2)
July 30, 2009
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.
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