Yet another new set of dietary guidelines emerged last week. And though they may sound familiar, these are the first to put a number on how little trans fat to eat.
The American Heart Assn., which updated a previous set of its recommendations issued in 2000, says trans fat should make up just 1% or less of total daily calories. On 2,000 calories daily -- considered the "average" intake -- that's about two grams of trans fat per day, or roughly the amount in half a small bag of fast-food fries. (By comparison, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines urged Americans simply to keep their intake "as low as possible.")
These days, whether it's the heart association guidelines, the federal government's U.S. Dietary Guidelines or those from the National Academy of Sciences, the latest advice on food goes beyond the kitchen and dining room to other areas of life. Whereas past guidelines stressed healthful eating, "the new ones broaden that concept to include the importance of a healthy lifestyle," says Alice Lichtenstein, chairwoman of the AHA's Nutrition Committee.
So consider physical activity -- and not smoking -- just as much a part of that picture as how many glasses of skim milk you drink. Or, as Lichtenstein says, "the key message is to focus on long-term, permanent changes in how we eat and live."
Here's where the heart association guidelines, which are designed to reduce the risk of heart and other cardiovascular diseases, part company with other recommendations:
* Skim the unhealthful fat. Not only does the association set a number for trans fat, but it also advises trimming saturated fat to 7% of total calories, less than the 10% recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
"The point is not to calculate the amount of saturated and trans fatty acids in the diet, but to choose foods that minimize your intake," Lichtenstein says. "So choose leaner cuts of meat and lower-fat dairy products, smaller serving sizes, avoid foods made with hydrogenated fats and ... include more vegetarian options and fish in the diet."
* Make all grains "whole and high-fiber." That means cereal, bread, crackers and pasta. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines suggest eating at least three servings daily of whole grains compared with the six to eight servings for the heart association.
* Skip the dietary supplements. Antioxidant supplements, including vitamins A, C and E, are "not recommended." Neither are phytochemicals or flavonoids. Ditto for the use of folate and B vitamins to lower blood levels of homocysteine -- a substance linked to increased risk of heart disease.
* Eat at least two meals of fish weekly. Best choices are oily fish, rich in healthful omega-3 fatty acids, such as herring, sardines, salmon, lake trout, mackerel and albacore tuna. But forgo fish-oil capsules, unless you have been diagnosed with heart disease and can't eat at least two meals of fish per week. People with high triglyceride levels who are under the care of a physician may also benefit from the capsules.
* Have a soy burger. The heart association recommends soy foods to help replace higher-fat animal products. But soy won't reduce blood cholesterol, triglycerides or other heart-risk factors.
* Aim for a healthful blood glucose level. Diabetes is a contributor to heart disease, so the association advises aiming for a blood glucose level of less than 100 milligrams measured after an overnight fast. Weighing too much is a contributor to abnormal blood sugar, so the organization advises finding the right number of calories to reach a healthful weight and maintain it.