In the U.S., people eat an average of 126 pounds of potatoes per person each year. (1) However, potatoes don’t count as a vegetable on Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate because they are high in carbohydrate – and in particular, the kind of carbohydrate that the body digests rapidly, causing blood sugar and insulin to surge and then dip (in scientific terms, they have a high glycemic load).
Coverage from Swiss Re, featuring HSPH’s Frank Hu
Coverage from Baltimore Sun, featuring HSPH’s Eric Rimm
For general good health, the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get a minimum of 2-1/2 hours per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. (37) Yet many people may need more than 2-1/2 hours of moderate intensity activity a week to stay at a stable weight. (37)
Coverage from Today.com, featuring HSPH’s Rob van Dam
Coverage from Canadian Obesity Network, featuring HSPH’s Dariush Mozaffarian
Coverage from Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, featuring HSPH’s Walter Willett
While Rimm argues that there is no “magic bullet” for weight loss, choosing a diet that is both healthy and easy to maintain is crucial for lasting results.
- Tailor your diet: Successful diets tailored to individuals’ personal and cultural preferences are more likely to result in long term success.
- Get support: Ongoing counseling sessions are important to achieving and maintaining weight loss.
- Eat a range of food choices, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts.
- Unprocessed foods are best. Stay away from processed food.
- Fats: Not all fats are created equal. Replace unhealthy fats, such as trans fats and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, with healthy fats, such as olive oil or canola oil (mono and polyunsaturated fats). Use liquid cooking oils and check nutrition labels on products you buy for fat content.
- Fish: If you are able, try to eat two servings of fish weekly or consider fish oil supplements to get an average 250mg/day of omega 3s or n-3 fatty acids. Choose your fish wisely to avoid mercury, especially if you are pregnant, thinking of becoming pregnant, or a small child or infant. Albacore tuna, shark, and swordfish are among the fish with higher mercury levels.
- Alcohol: A number of studies have shown moderate alcohol consumption to have some health benefits, such as to heart health and increased longevity. However, deciding whether to drink alcohol or not is a personal decision and not advisable if you are at risk for alcoholism. Studies also have shown that one drink a day can increase women’s breast cancer risk by 10%. If you do drink, do so sensibly and in moderation: up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
- Consider following HSPH’s Healthy Plate as a guide to healthy eating.
- Dark chocolate can be good for blood pressure—just don’t consume too much of it.
Full article available in HSPH’s featured news stories
Coverage from Harvard Food Law Society, featuring HSPH’s Walter Willett
Congress Scraps Limits on French Fries, Keeps Pizza a Vegetable
No one would mistake French fries and pizza for a healthy meal. Yet Congress has overturned a plan that would limit French fries in school lunch. And it’s scrapped or stalled other healthy menu changes that would boost vegetables and lower salt.
The final version of an agricultural spending bill, passed by Congress and signed into law in late November 2011, has watered down a comprehensive U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposal for improving school lunches. The USDA’s original plan was based on sound science and could have helped turn around this country’s obesity and diabetes epidemics. But the guidelines came under fire from food industry lobbyists, among them, potato growers, frozen pizza makers that supply schools, and the salt industry.
The USDA’s proposal would have capped the amount of potatoes and starchy vegetables that school lunches could serve at one cup per week—the equivalent of a medium baked potato—and promoted a wider variety of vegetables, especially dark green and orange varieties, such as broccoli, spinach, and carrots. (1) It would have also changed the serving size for tomato paste, bumping it up from 2 tablespoons to ½ cup—a change that meant a pizza slice, with its dab of tomato paste, could no longer count towards the school lunch vegetable requirement. The changes were part of a long-awaited overhaul of the nutrition standards in U.S. school meal programs, based on recommendations from an expert panel at the Institute of Medicine (IOM). (2)
Congress’ new wording in the funding bill scrapped the weekly limit on starchy vegetables. It also spelled out that the USDA must stick with the status quo on tomato products, meaning that the tomato paste on a pizza slice can still count as a vegetable.
These changes have been met with harsh criticism from nutrition and public health advocates, and with good reason: Potatoes, which are high in fast-digested carbohydrate, seem to be a particular culprit for weight gain and diabetes. (3, 4) Children eat plenty of potatoes but don’t eat enough dark green and orange vegetables. (2) Continuing to allow unlimited potatoes and pizza sauce to count as vegetables won’t do much to achieve the IOM’s goal of boosting children’s vegetable intake, and ultimately, improving their health.
In addition to backpedaling on potatoes and pizza, Congress put the brakes on planned sodium reductions in school lunch, “until the [USDA] Secretary certifies that the Department has reviewed and evaluated relevant scientific studies and data relevant to the relationship of sodium reductions to human health.” Yet this hesitancy does not make scientific sense: More than 90 percent of school children already get more than recommended amounts of sodium each day. (2) Though the salt industry lobbies mightily to the contrary, there’s ample evidence that high sodium intakes contribute to high blood pressure, even in children and teens, (5) and to heart disease in adults, and that curbing sodium lowers cardiovascular disease and death rates over the long term.
Congress also pushed back on the USDA’s plan to require more whole grains, saying that the USDA needs to define what whole grains are before it can issue such a requirement.
In a statement to the Associated Press, a USDA spokeswoman, Courtney Rowe, said the agency will still work to improve the nutritional quality of school lunch: “While it’s unfortunate that some members of Congress continue to put special interests ahead of the health of America’s children, USDA remains committed to practical, science-based standards for school meals.”
1.U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs: A Proposed Rule by the Food and Nutrition Service on 01/13/2011. Federal Register. 2011;76:2494–2570.
2. Institute of Medicine. School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press; 2009.
3. Halton TL, Willett WC, Liu S, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB. Potato and french fry consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83:284-90.
4. Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. N Engl J Med. 2011;364:2392-404.
5. He FJ, Marrero NM, MacGregor GA. Salt and blood pressure in children and adolescents. J Hum Hypertens. 2008; 22:4–11.