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Labun Jordan: Eat Less

Every five years, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee releases a new set of recommended changes to national nutritional policy.

These updates reflect new scientific findings and, in some ways, recent changes have also reflected a worsening national diet. In 2010, the guidelines shifted their emphasis from staying a healthy weight to a focus on losing weight. Now, in 2015, we're looking at stronger recommended language about eating less of certain things – upsetting groups in the “less” category, primarily non-lean beef, processed meats, and sugar sweetened foods and beverages.

Official U.S. dietary guidance has for a long time tiptoed around the issue of “less” by using terms like “moderation.” But it’s hard to define moderation when the norms are dramatically off kilter – like, for instance, the “empty calories” category – which includes added sugars and certain types of fats. 90% of the population exceeds recommended limits for empty calories - nearly all children do. No one is modeling moderation here. Basically everyone needs fewer empty calories. Period. But the Sugar Association’s immediate response was to remind us that “Sugar consumed in moderation… is an important part of a healthy diet and active lifestyle.”

Now, it would be easy to dismiss the sugar industry’s reaction as crass self-interest if we weren’t all so good at reframing health messages of less into permission for “more.” More is active , it feels like we’re doing something about our diet. So I’m always ready to try recipes that add more leafy greens, bitter flavors, or protein. I'd rather sprinkle walnuts on oatmeal or have kale chips with my burger than eat less at breakfast or lunch.

Even trends that begin as less can turn into more – like my brief flirtation with less gluten that rapidly turned into baking experiments like German Chocolate Cake made with teff flour. Teff, a gluten free grain, is delicious. The cake was delicious. And I had an excuse for more dessert.

Then there’s using more exercise to justify even more calories. I once gained weight on a long distance bike ride, pedaling 60 to 90 miles a day, then sabotaging it all at dinnertime.

Whether we’re a lobby group or just someone adding another handful of kale to dinner, we’re not a nation inclined to eat “less” of anything. And while we do need to consume more produce, whole grains, calcium, potassium and iron… we need to offset those additions with less of something else. And that’s a major change for everyone.

Helen Labun has worked in Vermont nonprofits addressing issues in rural economic development. Today, she is Executive Director of the Vermont Fresh Network, connecting chefs to Vermont farmers in support of the local food economy.
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