The New Food Guidelines -- with Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

WebMD Live Events Transcript; Event Date: Tuesday, January 18, 2005

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic

Just in time for your New Year's resolution to eat a more healthy diet, there is a new food guide. The departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services have just published an updated "Report of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee on Dietary Guidelines for Americans." What has changed? And how can you use this new information to become a more healthy new you? Kathleen Zelman, director of nutrition for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic, joined us on Jan. 18 to answer your questions.

If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR: Welcome to WebMD Live, Kathleen. Why new guidelines? Is there new information or scientific data that necessitated a revision of the guidelines? Or is this the result of a scheduled periodic review?

ZELMAN: It is the result of the five-year revision. While many of the guidelines are similar to the advice we've been giving these past five years, the new 2005 dietary guidelines incorporate science-based advice to promote health and to reduce risk from major chronic diseases through diet and exercise. A very well-respected group of scientists summarized the present knowledge regarding nutrients and food into recommendations for the public. It is designed to help Americans eat fewer calories, attack our obesity problem, become more active, and make wiser food choices. I trust these guidelines will also encourage food manufacturers, restaurants and food establishments to adopt healthier alternatives.

MODERATOR: Do these guidelines take into account how Americans really eat, not just how we should eat?

ZELMAN: In fact, the guidelines are more specific to quantity because of past confusion regarding serving sizes. For example, one of the key recommendations encourages us to eat more fruits and vegetables, so instead of saying nine servings per day, the guidelines specify 2 and a half cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit, which are the equivalent of nine servings. It's easier to figure out a half a cup of broccoli than it is to determine what one serving of broccoli is.

MODERATOR: What are some of the key recommendations?

ZELMAN: The positive advice is on eating more nutrient-dense foods. In addition to the fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and low-fat dairy. The basis of this advice is because you can consume and enjoy more of these nutrient-dense foods without lots of extra calories. It really should help us focus on making calories count.

Whole grain is another area where the guidelines place emphasis. The recommendation is to consume 6 one ounce servings (one ounce equals one slice of bread), half of which should be whole grain. Read the labels to be sure you see whole grain, whole oats, brown or wild rice, rye, pumpernickel, as a few examples.

Another key recommendation is to consume three servings of skim or low-fat dairy. The calcium is vital for our bones and to prevent osteoporosis. In addition, Americans love their dairy and emerging research shows that three servings of dairy in a reduced calorie eating plan enhances weight loss.

One thing we have found at the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic is that when eating plans include lots of food to eat, i.e., low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, whole grains -- and the foods are filling -- we have much greater success at weight loss. Eating more of the good stuff means you're more likely to eat less of the foods you need to limit.

MODERATOR: Are there any negative recommendations -- things we should avoid or eliminate?

ZELMAN: If one had to visualize what the new dinner plate might look like, half of it would be covered with fruits and vegetables, one-quarter whole grains, with a very small portion of poultry, lean meat, fish, beans, or nuts. Portion control on these items is being urged. So that two ounces of lean meat or four ounces of seafood might be the amount of protein you see at lunch or dinner. Americans are urged to limit the protein from these sources to five and a half ounces per day, which will come as a shock to some who sit down to 12-ounce steaks at dinner. Clearly, we need to cut back on these portion sizes and bring them into more calorie controlled portions.

The guidelines suggest limiting saturated fats that are found in whole milk, fatty cuts of meat, to less than 10 percent.

The advice for cholesterol remains the same: limit to 300 mg per day, and trans fats are to be kept as low as possible. The good news is that with the new trans fat labeling guidelines, we have already seen a shift in reducing these fats.

In addition, salt has been addressed in these guidelines, and a level of 2300 mg is what's advised. That's the equivalent of 2 cups of canned soup and a bag of potato chips.

If you have high blood pressure, the advice is to limit your sodium to 1500 mg per day or a cup and a half of canned soup. Watching your sodium intake is easy if you rely on fresh foods. Most sodium is found in processed foods, salted products, table salt, and salty meats, such as ham and bacon. If you are concerned about your sodium intake, check with your doctor or become an avid label reader to determine the amount of sodium in the foods you purchase.

The guidelines also suggested that the oils we choose should be the healthful ones, such as olive and vegetable oils, and in a 2,000 calorie diet, there should be only 6 tablespoons total coming from oil.

Limits were also placed on alcohol and sugar. These items are considered extras and discretionary calories, so if you're trying to lose weight limit the amount of sweets and alcohol.

MODERATOR: What are the most important things we should be looking for on the food label?

ZELMAN: First, look at the serving size so you know what all of the information is related to. Then calories per serving, grams of total fat, grams of saturated or trans fats, sodium, and sugars and fiber. These are governing guidelines to help you make the best choices.

Gone are the carb-phobic recommendations. Just as a reminder, fruits, vegetables and whole grains are all healthy carbohydrates and you should not shy away from them, regardless of your eating plan. Healthy eating plans should include all of these carbs.

MEMBER QUESTION: Do the new guidelines say how many calories you should have a day:

  • For adults?
  • For teens?
  • For younger children?

Our family is trying to lose weight together.

ZELMAN: It's excellent to work together as a family to lose weight, and each person's calorie level will be somewhat different. You can find additional guidance on individual recommendations for calorie levels on this website: It's a wonderful idea for the entire family to improve their nutrition and fitness. The kinds of foods that will be purchased and prepared will be good for everyone. The younger, more active members of the family will consume larger portion sizes, but the fundamental basics will remain the same and it will be easy for the entire family to lose weight together successfully.

MEMBER QUESTION: How do beans fit into the guidelines? I'm trying to cut down on meats for dietary and budget reasons and trying to replace them with dried beans. What do you think of this? It certainly is cheaper.

ZELMAN: Beans are an awesome source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber and an excellent alternative to meat, fish or poultry. The good news is because they contain fewer calories than meat, fish or poultry, you can enjoy a larger serving size. One ounce of meat, fish or poultry is equivalent to one egg, one quarter cup cooked beans, a tablespoon of peanut butter, a tablespoon of nuts or seeds, or a quarter cup of tofu.

MEMBER QUESTION: My teen daughter has declared herself a vegetarian for the New Year. How do I help her to maintain her health? Do the new guidelines work for vegetarian meal planning?

ZELMAN: Absolutely. It's easy to be healthy and get all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients in a vegetarian diet. Ideally, she will consume dairy products and eggs, or what we call a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. I would suggest a daily multivitamin with minerals and simply follow the new dietary guidelines. If she wants to be a vegan, a vegetarian who eliminates all animal protein, including dairy and eggs, it becomes a little more challenging and I would suggest visiting a registered dietitian to ensure an eating plan that meets her needs for growth, development, and good health. The good news is we are already seeing small changes.

MODERATOR: You mentioned that you hoped that in response to the new guidelines, food manufacturers, restaurants and food establishments would offer healthier alternatives. Can you be more specific? What would you like to see from these groups? New labels? New food offerings?

ZELMAN: The food industry has responded to the obesity epidemic, but we're not where we need to be. We've seen products without trans fats; we've seen the latest 100-calorie packs. There are now salads and delicious chicken sandwiches on every fast food menu. The next step is for the food industry to continue to develop delicious tasting nutritious alternatives. Our responsibility is to give it a chance. Try it; you might be pleasantly surprised how good these foods really taste. Eating healthfully does not mean you have to give up good taste.

MODERATOR: But how healthy are those fast-food chicken sandwiches?

ZELMAN: Most fast-food restaurants make their nutrition information widely available, so you can see how a grilled chicken sandwich or salad compares to the jumbo burger. Sometimes using a lighter salad dressing or smaller portion of dressing or skipping the extra sauce on the sandwich will provide an even more nutritious meal.

MODERATOR: The new guidelines also address fitness as an important component of a healthy lifestyle.

ZELMAN: To maintain your body weight or lose weight, you not only have to balance calories from food and beverages, but also increase your physical activity. The new guidelines suggest that you engage in regular physical activity at least 30 minutes each day. For effective weight loss, that number increases to 60 minutes per day. It sounds like a lot of time in our very busy lives to devote to activity. But this 30 to 60 minute time frame can be composed of smaller 10-minute increments. Start slowly and work your way up to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity. Moderate intensity is like walking quickly, as if you're trying to catch a bus. You need to push yourself a little.

If you're unaccustomed to any activity, it's a good idea to check with your doctor before you get started. Within that guideline of 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity each day, stretching exercises for flexibility and strength conditioning, i.e., lifting light weights, is important for your bones. So make time and include stretching and strength training within your weekly activities.

Diet alone can be very effective for weight management. But when diet is combined with regular physical activity, weight loss is much more likely to be sustained over time. We have learned from successful losers that walking regularly, along with a reduced-calorie diet, is what generates the best long-term results.

MODERATOR: For more information about exercise, please be sure to visit Rich Weil, the exercise expert from the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic, on his message board.

MEMBER QUESTION: Can you recommend a healthy diet for a teen?

ZELMAN: A healthy diet for a teenager is the same as a healthy diet for an adult. In general, they need more calories for growth and development, but those calories should come from the same recommendations of the dietary guidelines. I always recommend a daily multivitamin with minerals for everyone as nutritional insurance, not as a means of replacing foods, but just in case your daily food intake did not measure up in a particular nutrient.


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MODERATOR: Are there any particular foods that are singled out as being especially healthful?

ZELMAN: The guidelines recommend a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables. Variety is the key here which will also help satisfy the recommendation to get more potassium in your diet. Potassium is found primarily in fruits and vegetables: bananas, oranges, blueberries, bright red tomatoes. Think color. Usually the richer, the deeper the color, the more vitamins and minerals a food has.

MODERATOR: Any there any recommendations that deal with food safety?

ZELMAN: The 2005 dietary guidelines make a point of educating consumers about the importance of food safety and provide tips to minimize the risk of food-borne illness.

  • Wash your hands frequently, thoroughly. This is also very beneficial in prevention of cold and flu germs.
  • Make sure food contact surfaces, such as cutting boards, are rinsed and sanitized. Don't use the same cutting boards for produce and meats -- keep them separate.
  • When dealing with raw meat, make sure containers, cutting boards and knives are cleaned before the cooked meat is placed back on those same surfaces.
  • Cook foods to proper temperature; using a thermometer is your best bet.
  • Make sure your refrigerator and freezer are kept at proper temperature.
  • And lastly, avoid raw, unpasteurized products that can harbor harmful bacteria.

MEMBER QUESTION: How does fish fit into the new guidelines?

ZELMAN: Fish is a great and lean source of protein and some fish, such as salmon, also contain the healthful omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends you enjoy two servings a week of omega-rich seafood. Fish is an excellent means of getting protein, and the dietary guidelines encourage plenty of seafood, along with lean meat, poultry, beans, nuts, etc.

MEMBER QUESTION: Is it best to try to minimize processed foods? I'm not going completely organic, but it seems easier to avoid fat and salt and a lot of things you can't pronounce if you eat unprocessed foods.

ZELMAN: You are absolutely correct. If you eat more natural foods, not necessarily organic, but natural such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, fish, lean meats -- foods that have not been processed in any way -- you have much greater control over the fat, sodium, and nutrient content. This doesn't mean you can't have staples in your pantry; just aim for the majority of your food to be unprocessed. You can find unprocessed foods in the freezer section, as well as the fresh section.

MODERATOR: We are almost out of time, Kathleen. Before we wrap things up for today, do you have any final words for us?

ZELMAN: Don't feel overwhelmed by these new eating guidelines. They really capture what most health experts have been recommending and no one needed to tell us about the power of eating more fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Don't feel that you have to make all the changes at once. Gradually make small changes to your eating and lifestyle behaviors, with the intention that the small changes will become a permanent part of your diet. Enjoy. Bon appetit!

MODERATOR: Our thanks to Kathleen Zelman for joining us today. And thanks to you, members, for your great questions.

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