Eating by the numbers / Getting real about the new dietary guidelines: A tale of survival and surprise

In a long and detailed piece the SFChron food writers try out the 2005 dietary guidelines (new!) for two weeks. Check out the whole article for the journey, and I’ll snip their conclusions here

Quantity: Dieters know this, but keeping track of what you eat can prove surprising and a big incentive to change. Most of us thought we ate less overall than we actually did, and also thought we consumed more vegetables and fruits than was true.

Protein: It was harder than we expected to limit our protein. If you drink all the milk called for in the guidelines, you don’t need more than the 5.5 ounces of meat/chicken/beans recommended — which is less than most people eat just at dinner. Go for meals that combine small amounts of protein with piles of vegetables — stir fries, for example. And eat meatless meals more often, especially for dinner if you’ve had a meaty sandwich at lunch, or eggs for breakfast.

Vegetables: Work them into both lunch and dinner or you won’t make it to 2 1/2 cups a day. Another bonus: If your kids see you trying new vegetables, they’re more likely to try them, too.

Grains: Three daily servings of refined grains is easy to get — they’re everywhere — but three servings of whole grains requires more of an effort. Breakfast foods tend to contain whole grains, so try to squeeze two servings in there. That’s two slices of whole wheat toast, a cup of oatmeal, or a bowl of cereal and one slice of toast. Don’t forget about corn tortillas, which are generally whole-grain.

Dairy: The guidelines promote milk for its protein, potassium and other nutrients as well as calcium. The three servings don’t have to mean three glasses of milk a day. Some people can’t drink milk, but if you can a non-fat latte or a midmorning yogurt can account for a serving or two. Tara Duggan liked lowfat hot chocolate or soymilk before bed.

Exercise: This is key, and it takes time — but you’d be surprised how much you can work into your routine, 15 minutes here or there. Walk to the bus, walk to work, walk your child (or the stroller) to day care or school. Short of joining a gym, it’s an easy way to get your body moving.

Eating out. Order what you like, but eat only enough to satisfy you. Bring an extra friend who likes to share, or take leftovers home for a meal the next day.

Treats. Sweets, alcohol and rich foods like cheese and butter aren’t forbidden, but their extra calories are considered discretionary. That means if you have calories left over after all the nutritious foods, you can use them as you like. But practically, if you eat all the recommended foods you won’t have many calories left for fun stuff. You have to ration the fun foods — or exercise more to burn them off.


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