Booster Shots

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The 2010 dietary guidelines are coming ...

June 11, 2010 |  6:50 pm

... so we'll periodically mention a few things that may be changing or that struck us while listening to discussions of the advisory committee whose job it is to help craft them.

So -- bookmark this blog! This is far too exciting to miss!

(A reminder: The dietary guidelines are those bits of eating advice that the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture release every five years after a review of the science by a panel of nutrition experts. The guidelines are used to shape the food pyramid and programs like school lunches.)

One thing the advisory committee for the 2010 dietary guidelines seems ready to dump is talking to the American people about "discretionary calories."

"Discretionary calories" are the ones left over after you've fulfilled all your other nutrient requirements like vitamins, omega-3s, fiber and proteins. The idea is that if you eat prudently you'll still have calories to spare -- ones you can use to splurge on junky foods -- potato chips and sour candy and cake and ice cream and alcohol and other scrumptiou-- I mean, unhealthful things.

The more physically active you are, the more of these calories you have to play with -- because it will take more calories to sustain your current weight.

The concept was put in place when the 2005 dietary guidelines were crafted. But really, it seems fairly unhelpful in our roly-poly country (even though it was presumably intended as a teaching tool). As one of the 2010 committee members noted, it almost implies that discretionary calories are needed -- the committee now is “trying to move away from an allowance suggestion."

Instead, it seems to want us to get a better idea of how many calories we need -- in most cases, it's not the 2,000 calories mentioned in all the nutrition information panels on food packages.

Here's a calorie counter from the American Cancer Society.

And here are calorie charts at webMD.

-- Rosie Mestel

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