Everybody has something to say about the USDA’s new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the nation’s official healthy-eating blueprint. Critics range from the American Cancer Society and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to other top nutrition experts and even the meat and sugar lobbyists.
So to help you sort through all those points of view, here’s our no-baloney take on what to put on your plate for optimal health.
1. The USDA says have 2½ cups of veggies and 2 cups of fruit every day
We say: Aim higher. Most Americans don’t get enough of the basic nutrients found in produce: phytonutrients; fiber; vitamins, including A, C, D and E, and folate; and minerals, including calcium and magnesium.
Smarter food rule: Fill half your plate or bowl with fruit and vegetables at every meal. Produce helps you stay slim and helps guard against heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
2. The USDA says it’s OK to eat eggs, because cholesterol from food isn’t a health threat
We say: Wrong! Egg yolks are still potent heart threats, but not because of cholesterol. They contain lecithin, which boosts blood levels of a compound called TMAO. That stuffs your artery walls full of gunky, dangerous plaque.
Smarter food rule: Enjoy egg whites and egg white substitutes, and have no more than two egg yolks or whole eggs per week; none if you have 4 ounces of red meat or 6 ounces of pork that week.
3. The USDA say limit sodium to 2,300 mg per day or less
We say: Wrong! Instead of counting sodium milligrams, fill up on fresh fruit and veggies, 100 percent whole grains, low- or no-fat dairy, good fats and lean protein.
Smarter food rule: We think the sodium issue pertains to folks with high blood pressure: For the approximately 0.5 percent of you who have what’s called salt-sensitive high blood pressure, excess salt intake is deadly. For the 60 percent of you who have diabetes, heart disease or kidney problems, 1,500 mg is your recommended upper limit. But for everyone: Eating fresh and healthy foods will automatically lower your sodium intake. Levels are sky-high in processed foods like canned soups, pasta sauces, frozen meals, packaged lunch meats, fast-food and restaurant fare.
4. The USDA says go for a wide variety of healthy proteins, like fish, poultry, beans, dairy and nuts. Limit saturated fat to 10 percent of calories, and limit meat
We say: That’s wishy-washy! Avoid heart-harming processed meats, limit red meat to 4 ounces per week and say no to saturated fat bombs like butter, full-fat dairy, fatty meat, poultry skin and creamy desserts.
Smarter food rule: Red meat delivers sat fat and carnitine, converted to heart-menacing TMAO in your body. Have healthy proteins and healthy fats like olive and canola oil, nuts and avocado.
5. The USDA says keep added sugars to 10 percent of daily calories
We say: Yikes! That’s 170 calories’ worth of sugar, if you eat 1,700 total calories per day. Almost four tablespoons.
Smarter food rule: Steer clear of added sugars and syrups. These food felons increase risk for weight gain, heart disease, diabetes and possibly some cancers. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a splash of fruit juice in seltzer or fresh fruit.
6. The USDA says a little wine, a bottle of beer, your morning coffee ... sip them guilt-free!
We say: Hooray! There are real health benefits in moderate alcohol and coffee (or tea) for most people.
Smarter drink rule: Stick with one alcoholic drink a day for women, up to two for men. Skip alcohol, though, if you tend to overdo it or have a family history of alcoholism. For women, it’s important to know that any alcohol consumption may increase breast-cancer risk. Compounds in coffee lower diabetes and cancer risk, so for those who don’t get side effects – anxiety, headaches, abnormal heart beats, gastric upset – more is better. Remember, though, for some people, too much coffee or coffee too late could interfere with sleep.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show”; Buffalo native Dr. Mike Roizen is chairman of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.