Food & Drink

To Your Health: New dietary guidelines in the works

By Parul Kharod

Since March is National Nutrition Month, let’s talk about the current hot topics in the nutrition world.

2015 dietary guidelines

Last month the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee submitted its advisory report to the secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The report states, “The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.” Dietary guidelines for the nation are updated every five years. This latest report has advice based on current health of the population. The government will use the information in the report to develop the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. HHS and USDA will jointly release the final recommendations later this year. In the meantime, we all can benefit from the advice and start adding more vegetables, whole grains and beans to our diet.

Functional foods

The idea that food has healing powers has been around for centuries. Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.” So it is no surprise that there is renewed interest in functional foods – those that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition. Oatmeal is one example of a functional food because it contains soluble fiber that can help lower cholesterol levels. Colorful fruits and vegetables are functional foods as they provide antioxidants that can neutralize free radicals and reduce the risk of cancer. Most foods labeled as super foods are actually functional foods because they serve a purpose beyond numbers and calorie counting. There is a shift in focus towards functional and integrative medicine that treats the body as a whole instead of just treating symptoms.

Gut microbiome

Did you know that you never eat alone? When you dine, you are feeding the millions of bacteria that live in your gut. What you feed them determines how healthy they are, and in turn, how healthy you are. The microbes that live in our gut are being studied in great detail under the Human Microbiome Project and the American Gut Project. The gut is being called the “second brain” because of the number of neurotransmitters present in the intestinal walls. A lot of research is being done on how the gut environment affects our overall health. Results point towards a direct connection between gut health and a range of issues such as obesity, depression and anxiety, chronic inflammation, cancer, diabetes and GI issues such as irritable bowel syndrome. Poor diet and long-term chronic use of antibiotics and antacids are said to harm the quality and quantity of gut bacteria causing long-term consequences. So how to keep our gut healthy? Eat more foods naturally rich in fiber – vegetables, whole grains and beans – the same foods recommended by the dietary guidelines advisory panel!

Parul Kharod is a clinical dietitian at WakeMed Cary Hospital. Reach her at pkharod@wakemed.org

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