On January 31st, the USDA and HHS presented the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and thereby upheld their Congressionally mandated responsibility to provide science-based nutritional and dietary guidance to the general public in a document that serves as the foundation for federal nutrition education and promotion programs. This was the first time the dietary guidelines were based on an evidence based body of scientific knowledge, reviewed by an elite group of scientific advisors, and written to suggest best practices for the many stakeholders that produce and deliver food to the American public. This is no small task and those who participated should be widely commended.
A main focus of the guidance is to consume nutrient dense foods. Nutrient density, possibly an unfortunate term, defines a food by its nutrient content for the amount of calories it provides. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, individuals should “increase the amount and variety of seafood consumed” and “replace protein foods that are higher in solid fats”. Choosing foods that supply high quality protein with minimal solid or unhealthful fats would be an example of nutrient density. If seafood and fish were plentiful and affordable it would be easy to “increase the amount and variety of seafood consumed” as recommended. Milk, meat, poultry, and eggs in addition to seafood supply high quality protein along with many valuable nutrients in natural combinations that have supported life on earth and allowed mankind to evolve. Therefore, for optimal health it is important to vary lean protein foods including lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds to get a full complement of all the needed nutrients.
Although the 2010 Dietary Guidelines are correct in stressing the importance of incorporating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains into the American diet, it is still important to remember that high quality protein foods supply many nutrients such as heme iron, vitamin B12, calcium and zinc which are in short supply in fruits/vegetables and whole grains. If there are foods to be avoided, I would suggest the grain based desserts (pie, pastry, granola bars) which from the tables and charts within the guidance document appear to supply substantial amounts of both solid fats and added sugar without a sufficient nutrient balance.