Every five years, they revise their recommendations, and those new recommendations were released to the general public this week. You probably haven't heard because headlines from Egypt and the Midwest blizzard blanketed the news. Or maybe it's because the entire report was, umm, uninspiring. Uninteresting. Unable to tell me something I (and you) didn't already know.
Let's begin with the "selected messages for consumers." Reading this is like listening to my mom tell me to eat my vegetables. Except I'm 31. And I now know that for myself.
- Enjoy your food, but eat less
- Avoid oversized portions
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
- Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk
- Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals - and choose the foods with lower numbers
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks
There is a little more meat, err, in the form of fish, to the story. If you read the entire report, (I'd highly recommend the executive summary if your toddlers don't often allow you the freedom to read for hours uninterrupted) you'll quickly see the driving forces behind these new recommendations are poor diet and physical inactivity. Haven't I said that before?
Still, if you're not into reading government documents, I've taken the liberty of breaking down some key recommendations into tips that make sense for mommies, my beloved Vice President's of Grocery Shopping:
1. Eat less salt. A great place to start is canned soups. Cream of "whatever" can be a handy-dandy meal-time helper, but it's loaded with sodium. Look for brands labeled "reduced sodium" or "healthy choice." And, beware of store brands. I have often found that store brands - while cheaper - are higher in sodium content.
2. Butter is good, but butter is bad for you. And so is lard. Making stir fry, roasted potatoes or sautéed chicken breasts? Try olive oil or soybean (vegetable) oil. Save your butter for the really good stuff, like chocolate chip cookies. The stuff you eat in moderation. Moderation. Moderation. Moderation. I just don't think the report used this word enough. Now I feel better.
3. Reduce cholesterol. I love my cured pork products (bacon, sausage, ham) as much as any red-blooded American. And I love my cured pork products with a side of eggs. But I respect them. That means sausage and eggs are made for breakfast in moderation. One egg per day is a good thing. (Eased me through the first trimester with baby #3.) Again, what's the take home point? Cholesterol - whether from eggs, dairy, poultry, pork or beef - should be consumed in moderation with your fruits, veggies and grains.
4. Avoid over-processed foods. Thirty some years ago, my mom knew that Hamburger Helper was bad stuff. She was way ahead of her time. If your food comes from the middle aisles of the grocery store, or if it comes in a box and you just have to "warm it up," it's probably over-processed and un-healthy. Read the ingredients, ladies. If the label sounds like things you have in your pantry, it's good. If it sounds more like a chemical formula, it's bad.
5. Make half your grains whole. Whole grains that is. Whole grain bread is pricey. My thrifty husband introduced me to bread store outlets. We can usually get three loaves of whole wheat bread for $4.00. Check it out. And, start adding whole wheat flour to your baked goods. I use half whole wheat flour / half all purpose flour in nearly every bread, muffin, pancake, waffle, or cookie recipe I make. (With the exception of snickerdoodles and sugar cookies - they don't take well to whole wheat flour.) And I almost always reduce the sugar called for by 25%. I promise, you'll never miss it.
6. Fill up on fruits and veggies. There was a day in our house when I could serve steamed broccoli and brussel sprouts and my kids wouldn't flinch. They loved the stuff. But somewhere around age 4, Noah decided she didn't like much of anything besides cereal, bread, pasta, and applesauce. So, I tried deceiving them by hiding vegetable purees in recipes. And that still works some of the time, but it can be pricey to hide vegetables and serve them as a side dish. So, when I have vegetable leftovers, I sneak them into whatever we're having. Today, I had a leftover 1/4 cup of canned pumpkin (from a yummy pumpkin muffin snack) that I dumped into turkey and rice soup. No one noticed. I don't quit offering a variety of fruits and vegetables - there's one of each at every meal. My theory is that eventually they'll come back around. (Shh! Monday morning we'll be having pink heart shaped pancakes for Valentine's Day. The pink comes from pureed beets. Don't tell! The kids love them!)
7. Choose lean protein. Instead of barbecued meatloaf, go for grilled lean ground beef burgers with barbecue sauce on the side. Add some variety with plant based protein from beans. Not to mention, this can stretch your protein dollar given the rising costs of animal based proteins presently. I made a large batch of vegetable beef soup the other day. But instead of using two pounds of ground beef, I used only one pound and added a can of (rinsed) lima beans. Beans are a great source of cheap (that's for you, Mr. Potted Goose) protein.
8. Switch to 1% or low-fat milk. Growing up, we always drank 2%. In college, I weaned myself down to skim milk. I gradually stepped down to 1% and then to skim. It was an easy transition, and I still love to drink milk. I buy 1% now - that keeps everyone in the family happy. As for cream cheese and sour cream, I stick with the good stuff. Again, these are foods used in moderation, so I don't mind using "full fat." (Oh, and Mr. Potted Goose can sniff out low-fat sour cream from a mile away.)
9. Eat more seafood. I can respect this recommendation on its nutritional merit, but this one is hard to put into practice. I live in the middle of Kansas, thirty-five miles from a major grocer who carries fresh fish, and thousands of miles from the actual supply of said fish. Mr. Potted Goose fishes in the summer and we do consume his catch - deep fried. Of course. Mostly, I have a hard time understanding this recommendation (especially for pregnant women) because it suggests you eat more seafood but also take an iron supplement. Why not eat lean beef - which has an excellent source of iron - and forego the supplement? But what do I know? I'm not a nutritionist. (I'm working on a new post, F is for Fish...guess I do have a few things to learn.)
10. Exercise. Eighty years ago, our ancestors didn't need to exercise. They were up at dawn milking the cow, tending to the garden, and caring for the livestock. They ate sausage, cooked with lard and drank whole milk. And they burned off every extra calorie. Unfortunately, driving the mini-van to the grocery store isn't yielding the same results for me. Ergo, I exercise. Even more so now thanks to my $18,000 new hip. (Another post, another time.) And so do my kids. We take walks, we get outside as much as possible, we play at the parks around town. And we all feel better because of it. Well, I do. You can ask my three year old about our walks and he'll just tell you about all the puddles he stomped in along the way. Furthermore, the Potted Goose household is "Wii-tarded." I'm firmly holding my ground on video games - even the get up and move kind. There's simply no replacement for actually getting outside and running around.
There you have it, folks. That's my spin on the latest food buzz. Whatever your thoughts, you get what you paid for here. Otherwise, you can read the government's report. It only cost us $587,000.