Information adapted from 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
by Cate Moriasi
We have written a book, Atherosclerosis Attack. The book, which is in preparation for publication, uses a story to teach middle schoolers about atherosclerosis, the underlying cause for most heart-related deaths. Atherosclerosis develops over a lifetime and is largely affected by diet. Our hope is that as young people learn more about this disease and the fact that it is preventable in most cases, they will choose protective eating patterns. But what does a dietary pattern or eating pattern mean?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture publish Dietary Guidelines that provide food and beverage recommendations for Americans ages 2 and older, based on scientific evidence about the effects of nutrition on body function. They defined an eating pattern as “the combination of all the foods and beverages a person eats and drinks over time.” The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines focused on eating patterns because of the growing evidence that the combination of all foods and beverages that an individual consumes over time significantly affects the individual’s health. The guidelines clearly spell out what a healthy eating pattern should include and what it should limit. They also provide resources on how to build a healthy eating pattern.
I love the idea of focusing on healthy eating patterns for several reasons given in the dietary guidelines, including the fact that healthy eating patterns are adaptable. They give people the ability to incorporate many of the foods they enjoy depending on their preferences, traditions, culture and budget.
I believe the idea of focusing on healthy eating patterns addresses the question of “what is the best diet out there?” I have heard this question asked several times and my take is, the best diet is the sustainable diet, in terms of your ability to stick with it but most important, sustainability in terms of providing all the nutrients you need for normal body function while minimizing diet-related illnesses. Different food groups for example fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, and protein foods, provide various nutrients which promote health. Promoting health also requires considering the effects of food components such as added sugars, fats, salt, and others.
Focusing on healthy eating patterns is essential to helping children adopt lifestyles that avoid or at least delay onset of prevalent food-related chronic diseases. There are many ways to achieve a healthy eating pattern, which makes it less daunting even for children to adopt a healthy eating pattern that can last a lifetime. As children learn to make daily choices, we can teach and encourage them to shift to healthier foods and beverages, one choice at a time. The Dietary Guidelines emphasize shifts, which should be doable and healthy changes to how people already eat. For example, a shift from soda to water during lunch will cut down on intake of added sugar; snacking on unsalted nuts instead of chips would cut down on salt, and shifting from a cream-based pasta to one with oils and vegetables would cut down on saturated fats.
The picture below shows the current eating patterns.
Using vegetables and salt as an example, we can see that a high number of people are eating less than the recommended amount of vegetables, and an equally high number are eating more than the recommended amount of salt (sodium). “Young children and older Americans generally eat closer to the recommended amounts than adolescents and young adults.” If you take care of an adolescent (10-19 years of age according to World Health Organization), chances are that you have noticed the struggle of getting them to eat healthy. So, what are you to do if you are still interested in helping them?
This blog post is intended to encourage you to start the conversation about healthy eating patterns with your adolescent. Adolescents are learning big and fancy words at school and might be interested when you use some words like eating patterns to talk about an everyday issue of choosing what to eat or not to eat. You can discuss how what they eat or drink can make them healthy or unhealthy. Over time, little changes in the foods and drinks they choose can lead to big health benefits. Help them see that healthy eating doesn’t mean giving up all the foods they love. They can start by making one healthier choice every day. For example, having a fruit instead of chips for an afternoon snack or adding a vegetable of their choice to their favorite dish.
Whenever possible involve them in finding and selecting healthier recipes, grocery shopping, experimenting with various healthier alternatives of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, etc. Finding recipes that they help with preparing is a good step towards encouraging them to make their favorite foods healthier. My son loves pasta. Over time, we have shifted to whole grain pasta and allowed him to cook as he wants and he is quite pleased with the dishes he prepares. With my daughter, we have used the time of no ice cream in the freezer to experiment with homemade smoothies sweetened with stevia. We made a “frisky” from the Trim Healthy Mama book and she enjoyed it. Recipes for healthy meals can also be found on USDA’s What’s Cooking website. This website has different categories of cookbooks, including healthy eating on a budget. They also give an option of creating your own cookbook, which might be a fun activity for children.
Let’s encourage our kids to take advantage of everyday opportunities to make at least one healthy food or beverage choice for their bodies. Also in the Dietary Guidelines, we are reminded that physical activity is important. Children of ages 6 to 17 need at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day.