As I mentioned, I attended the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Weight Management Symposium this past weekend, and I learned so many things about diet and nutrition when it comes to weight loss. I’ve decided to break this recap into two parts since I learned a lot of interesting things and don’t want to lump it all into one super long post. Here we go!
USDA Dietary Guidelines
During the first presentation of the Symposium, a woman from the Committee that developed the new USDA Dietary Guidelines spoke about the guideline development process. In case you weren’t aware, the USDA issues a new set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years, and the most recent version came out in 2015.
This speaker and the rest of her Committee was responsible for reviewing all the scientific evidence available about nutrition, and then making recommendations for the new dietary guidelines, at which point different government staffers actually did the writing.
She explained that while there are a lot of different studies available to help them make their recommendations, there wasn’t always the perfectly designed study to answer whatever question they had. A lot of times the research was close, but they had to improvise a lot too. There were of course tons of rules and guidelines involved in the process as well, so it was a really big job that took a long time to complete.
In the end, here are the major takeaways from the new guidelines:
- Eat a mostly healthy diet, most of the time
- Limit sugar, saturated fat, and sodium intake
- Shift to healthier food and beverage choices
- Eat a variety of foods/nutrients within your daily calorie limit
- Eat nutrient-dense food that you like
- Support healthy eating patterns everywhere (at school, at home, while traveling, etc.)
- Eat a variety of vegetables and whole fruits (limit items like apple juice, even when it’s natural and organic, since it’s high in sugar and has no fiber)
- Consume fat free or low fat diary (milk, yogurt, cheese, soy)
- Consume a variety of proteins (seafood, lean meats, legumes like beans and peas, nuts, soy)
- Enjoy healthy fats in moderation (this is a new recommendation!)
- Limit processed meats
She showed this nice comparison of how the recommendations have changed over the years, and said that even though we’ve recommended one thing for a long time, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question the evidence and change our minds to recommend something else as new data becomes available.
The guidelines received criticism for a number of things, including that they were too vague (a lot of specific targets were eliminated due to a lack of scientific evidence proving them to be beneficial) and that they didn’t do a good enough job addressing controversial topics like low fat vs. high fat dairy products and processed meats leading to cancer. Many of the other sessions that I attended referenced the new guidelines, and pointed out that they are common sense and don’t offer advice specific enough to help people much. Then again, they are just guidelines and should be treated as such.
One thing I thought was really interesting was the topic of lobbying in relation to these new guidelines. A lot of criticizers said that food companies lobbied the government to change the guidelines in one way or another. This has always made sense to me, especially when I think about the old food pyramid that had grains on the bottom and was put together by the USDA, the government agency responsible for promoting agriculture for crying out loud. That was something that always bugged me, so I could see how this could be a relevant concern. While the speaker said that was untrue and that no company could have that much power, she did admit it’s a bit of a problem.
Specifically, she noted that her Committee recommended that people should eat a wide variety of vegetables that have rich interior color like sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, kale, etc. After the government was finished typing up the guidelines, her Committee noticed that they had added a recommendation to eat “starchy vegetables,” which is not something the scientific evidence supported and her Committee did not recommend.
I thought this was a really interesting piece of information, and it definitely helped put everything into perspective for me. Sigh. Oh, government.
The Role of Circadian Rhythm in Diet
The researcher who gave the next presentation examined how your body’s circadian rhythm and internal clock affects the way you process food. This topic was completely new to me, and totally fascinating.
She explained that every cell in your body reacts to your internal clock or circadian rhythm, and that it winds up affecting a lot more about your body than you probably realize. She stressed the importance of your inner clock and explained that when you eat can make a big difference in your body composition.
She has examined a number of different eating strategies for losing weight including meal frequency, breakfast skipping, intermittent fasting, daily meal timing, time-restricted feeding, shifting food intake, and macronutrient timing. She found that the first two strategies have no affect on body weight, but there is some very interesting data out there about fasting and strategically timing meals.
I think we’ve all heard the saying, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a price, and dinner like a pauper,” right? Basically the theory is to eat larger meals earlier in the day, and then eat less and less as the day goes on. She had some incredible research to back this saying up, and found that when two people ate the same meals and consumed the same number of calories but switched up the times that they ate them, the ones who ate more in the morning and less in the evening weighed significantly less and had less problems with diabetes, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, etc. Fascinating!
So what were the key takeaways from her session?
First, try not eat late at night, because once the sun goes down your body starts releasing melatonin to get you ready for sleep. Eat dinner before it gets dark out whenever possible.
Also, if you’re going to have one big, unhealthy/fatty meal during the day, try to eat it around breakfast time whenever possible as it gives your body the ability to break it down better. Those individuals who eat large meals late at night are more likely to have problems with their weight and their health.
She also recommends that fasting is a good option for people who want to lose weight, and you should talk to your doctor about fasting for intermittent periods during the day (for example, only eating during 6 or 8 hours of the day and then fasting during the rest of the time) or fasting a couple of times a week by drastically cutting calories on specific days.
This was a really interesting talk with lots of great data to back up the findings, and I’m curious to see where this approach goes in the future! Either way, I know I’m going to try eating dinner a little earlier at night, that’s for sure.
Aaaaand, that’s it! I’ll recap the rest of the sessions in a Part 2 follow-up post.
Question of the day: What time do you usually eat dinner? Do you like hearing about these kinds of topics?