Dietary Guidelines (Alice O’Dea Article)

Hi there! In this weeks article, Alice discusses the 5 food categories in light of the new governmental dietary guidelines coming out later this year. Food doesn’t have to be complicated or confusing, she reminds us, as long as you “get real food and prepare it yourself”, you should be fine. Just another great reminder why it is best to buy local and from a farmer you trust (like us!).

There’s recently been some discussion in the news and on social media about the new dietary guidelines that will be coming out this year. This is a process we go through every five years, and it inevitably is fraught with controversy and leads to confusion. This year has been no exception. Unfortunately, while the details are being ironed out by the experts, the rest of us still have to eat.

The good news, though, is that figuring out what to eat is not as complicated as a lot of people make it out to be. Most of the confusion and controversy arises because modern eaters have so many options to choose from, which can be quite overwhelming. But if you ignore all the claims on the boxes and in the ads, and pay attention to just the food that ends up on your plate, things can get a lot simpler and clearer.

Eat a wide variety of foods (not a lot of anything) that are sourced as close to the farm as possible, and you will likely be getting a balanced diet. What you might not get in one meal, you’ll make up for in the next. Over the course of a day or two, things will balance out. Looking at the government’s recommendations is an interesting exercise, as it helps to have a general sense of the proportions, but for most people, there’s no need to measure out each bit of food. Take Michael Pollan’s famous advice (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”), and you’ll be fine.

If you’re curious, you can find out how many calories you should be eating on a given day to either lose, gain or maintain your current weight by using the calculator here. That link will also give you a food plan, with some detail as to what you should be eating, but don’t worry too much about the particulars. It will give you just a general sense of what sorts of things (and how much of them) you should be seeing on your plate day to day, and then you can think about how you might best supply your body with those foods without surrounding them with empty fats, sugars and starches. The five categories of foods included are fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein.

When it comes to fruit, raw and without added sweetener is the ideal to shoot for. Just eat an apple, banana or grapefruit, plain and unadorned. This way, you get the vitamins and minerals without any extra calories or sugar. You could get some of those nutrients in a supplement or in juice, but then you’d be missing out on the fiber that you get when you enjoy simple, fresh fruit. And if it’s out of season, dried versions can be a good alternative.

Eat a wide variety of vegetables in all sorts of colors for maximum nutrition. If you’re struggling to get enough vegetables into your diet, keep in mind that frozen vegetables can be as delicious and nutritious as fresh ones, and are easy to slip into a dish. Making eggs for breakfast? Make a frittata instead and you can probably fit in at least a serving or two of your day’s veggies. Serving soup? Whether or not it’s called for in the recipe (or even if the soup is from a can), mix in some greens. Make rarebit instead of grilled cheese, nibble on cabbage chips instead of potato chips and so on. After a while, you’ll get there without even thinking about it all that much.

Grains have become a loaded subject lately, but there are plenty to choose from, so this is probably a pretty easy category for most people—even those who are trying to avoid gluten or fructans. Between breads, cereals, pasta, rice and popcorn, I suspect the majority of us might be in danger of getting too much of a good thing. The trick is in trying to stick to the whole and unrefined versions while avoiding the white, heavily processed stuff.

Dairy is an unfortunately named category because the requirement here isn’t that we eat something that is made from milk, but rather that we should make sure we have adequate sources of calcium, potassium and vitamin D. There are soy-, rice- and nut-based alternatives for those who are avoiding animal products or are lactose-intolerant (though fermented dairy is an option for some in the latter category).

And finally, there is protein, which can be a real Catch-22. Either we’re getting plenty because we eat a lot of meat (but then are also getting a potentially unhealthy dose of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat), or we have little or no animal protein in our diets and may not be getting enough from other sources. But even here, if we phase back the meats and ramp up plant proteins such as beans, lentils, quinoa, seeds and nuts—and don’t sweat the details—we’re probably going to be just fine. The key is to eat from a variety of protein sources while also eating an interesting assortment of vegetables and grains. The particulars will sort themselves out.

If you have a medical issue, by all means work with your health care team to come up with a proper diet. But otherwise, you’re going to be fine if, for the most part, you just get real food and prepare it yourself. That way, you can simply enjoy eating and not worry about the details.