How Has Nutrition Changed Over Time?

Display of healthy foods shot from above, vegetables, fruit, fish, beans

Food is a topic that grabs everyone’s attention. After all, everybody eats. However, not everybody chooses to eat the same things. The food on your plate can have major implications for your tastebuds, your waistline, and your overall health. If you are interested in eating a healthy, balanced diet, then learning a bit about nutrition is inevitable, but it can be frustrating at times. Doesn’t it seem like the guidelines that the experts offer are always changing? Where do these guidelines come from? How has nutrition changed over time?

How Has Nutrition Changed Over Time?

If you’ve been following the nutrition news for a while, then you have probably noticed a pattern. Foods and beverages tend to fall in and out of favor with a fair amount of regularity. A news story will indicate that coffee lovers can rejoice because their favorite drink has health benefits that make it a virtual superfood. Meanwhile, another story frets about the dangers of consuming too many eggs. A year later, the fortunes of the foods are reversed. Some chemical in coffee now poses a threat that means that you might want to limit your cups, and eggs are actually an excellent source of a particular mineral. While it may seem like the science of nutrition is constantly shifting, is that really true? Where do the nutrition guidelines that Americans rely on come from? How has nutrition changed over time?

A History of Dietary Guidelines in the United States

As Dietary Guidelines for Americans explains, the federal government has been handing out nutritional advice for more than a century. It started as bulletins, posters, brochures, and books that covered important topics like food safety, food storage, and the food groups in a healthy diet. There were also efforts to encourage people to consume enough of the essential vitamins and minerals that can trigger specific diseases if they are lacking in a person’s diet.

In the 1970s, there was a cultural shift as emerging research suggested that good nutrition could help promote good health and combat diseases. In order to promote better health, increase productivity, and reduce health care costs, the government released dietary goals with suggestions for the consumption of calories, fats, sugars, cholesterol, sodium, and carbohydrates. Some argued the science behind the recommendation wasn’t strong enough, so scientists from both the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) joined forces to assemble the next round of guidance.

In the 1980s, the USDA and HHS were in charge, and another new approach emerged. In addition to the information already on the table about nutrient adequacy, scientists began to educate the public about the benefits of moderation and how diet could impact chronic disease. As new updates continued to be released every five years, the tone evolved. Eating healthy no longer meant following a restricted diet. Instead, it was described as enjoying a variety of healthy foods in moderation.

Nutrition Building Blocks

How has nutrition changed over time? Clearly, trends happen, and various diets go in and out of favor. However, when you peel away the chatter and look at the basic building blocks of nutrition, how much change has there been in the decades since the federal government first started offering nutritional guidelines? According to U.S. News & World Report, things really haven’t changed that much. If you’d looked at a list of foods to include at the start and compared it to a recent list, you’d find they were fairly similar: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, and nonfat or low-fat dairy. The same parallel is true for foods to limit: sodium, saturated fat, and added sugar.

If eating healthy is your goal, you don’t have to deny yourself your favorite foods. Instead, you simply need to begin making careful choices. Choose to consume a mix of healthier foods and beverages, and watch the size of your portions. Try to pick nutrient-dense foods, and vary your menu so that you get a healthy mix of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Limit your consumption of sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars. Unfortunately, a lot of modern convenience foods are packed with the stuff that you’re trying to avoid. However, if you read nutrition labels carefully, you’ll find some alternatives that you can work with.

Does this all seem overwhelming? Consider making an appointment with a nutritionist. They can offer advice about easy menu planning to help you get started.

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