Maryam Hamid M.D.

The Latest Dietary Guidelines from Departments of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Agriculture (USDA):

We have been told many times that regular exercise and consumption of a healthy diet can lead to a host of benefits including increased energy, happiness, health and even long life. It is like the more we learn the more we ignore. But it is high time we start paying attention to this fact because though the present could be grave enough, the dread of a chronic disease crisis looms even larger tomorrow. Today 133 million Americans have at least one chronic disease which is responsible for 7 out of 10 deaths in the U.S. By 2025 chronic disease will affect 164 million Americans – nearly half of the population.

It should shock no one to hear that Americans are remarkably unhealthy eaters. Chronic diseases and conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity and arthritis are among the most common, costly and preventable of all health problems. The dietary guidelines are part of a multifaceted solution for preventing these diet related chronic diseases.

U.S. department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Agriculture (USDA) released eighth edition (2015- 2020) of the Dietary guidelines for Americans. These guidelines were updated by prestigious researchers and scientists in the field of nutrition, health and medicine. In addition, DHHS and USDA obtained input from various nutrition and medical experts and comments from the public as part of research that has examined the relationship between overall eating patterns and health. Here are their recommendations which highlight multiple strategies across all segments of society to promote healthy eating behaviors and physical activity.


Just like it sounds, added sugars are not a natural part of any food. We mistakenly think that added sugar is the amount of sugar added on the dining table. They include sugars and syrups that food manufacturers add to products like soft drinks, candy, cakes, cookies, pies, and fruit drinks; dairy desserts and milk products such as ice cream, sweetened yogurt and sweetened milk; and other grains like cinnamon toast and honey nut waffles. They contribute calories but no essential nutrient. All unutilized extra calories simply increase body weight.

Over the past 30 years, Americans have steadily consumed more and more added sugars in their diet which has contributed to the obesity epidemic. It is important we should be able to recognize different names that food manufacturers use on labels for added sugars. They are; brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, high fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, malt sugar, molasses, raw sugar, sugar, sugar molecule ending in ‘ose’ ( dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose). You can calculate calories per serving from total sugars (added and naturally occurring sugar). To do this, multiply grams of sugar by 4 (there are 4 calories in 1g of sugar). For example a product containing 15g of sugar has 60 calories.


Saturated fats are common in the American diet. They are solid at room temperature. Common sources of saturated fat include red meat, whole milk and other whole milk dairy foods, cheese, coconut oil, and many commercially prepared baked goods.

A diet rich in saturated fats can drive up total cholesterol and tip the balance towards more harmful LDL (Low Density Lipoproteins) cholesterol, which clogs the arteries in the heart and elsewhere in the body. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack.

On the contrary, Polyunsaturated fats are the healthy fats present in corn oil, sunflower oil and olive oil, fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout are other common examples. Polyunsaturated fats are required for normal body functions. They are used to build body cells and nerves. They are needed for blood clotting, muscle movement and host of other normal functions.

Strong and consistent evidence shows that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease events and deaths. Dietary guidelines limit dietary cholesterol to range of 100 to 300mg/day.

There are two types of cholesterol; LDL and HDL. LDL is considered bad because it clogs your arteries. HDL is good cholesterol because it helps remove LDL cholesterol from arteries. Making a few changes in your diet can reduce cholesterol and improve your heart health.). Another healthy source of fats is all kinds of nuts for example, walnuts, almonds and pistachio etc. They help raise the good cholesterol (HDL) in the blood.


Average American gets about 3,400 mg of sodium a day, much more than recommended. The vast majority of sodium in the typical American diet comes from foods that are processed and prepared. These include bread, pizza, coldcuts and bacon, cheese, soups, fast foods and prepared dinners, such as pasta, meat and egg dishes. Some foods naturally contain sodium like all vegetables and dairy products, meat and shellfish. Some condiments like soy sauce, salad dressings, sauces, dips, ketchup, and mustard also contain excess of sodium.

It has been proven that increase intake of sodium is directly linked to high blood pressure in adults, so healthy eating patterns limit sodium to less than 2300mg/day for adults and children aged 14 or older. This is equal to one teaspoon.

There are many ways by which one can cut back on sodium. Eating fresh fruits and fresh vegetables, choosing products labeled low in sodium, removing salts from recipes whenever possible, limiting use of sodium rich condiments, and using herbs and spices to season the food can cut sodium intake to a healthy low level.

1. Consume no added sugars on the table or that added by the manufacturers. They add to the amount of unused calories and lead to obesity. Obesity has a direct adverse effect on the quality of life.

2. Polyunsaturated fats are the way to go. Remember nuts are a healthy source of fats. LDL is the bad cholesterol that clogs the arteries and HDL is the good cholesterol that removes LDL from the arteries. Exercise increases HDL.

3. Beware of Sodium which is the common table salt. It is the harbinger of high blood pressure which in turn opens the door to many other diseases.

4. While quality is very important do not forget the quantity. Moderation is the golden rule of healthy life.

Dr. Maryann Hamid is a medical graduate from Qaed-EAzam Medical College. Bhawalpur Pakistan and is pusuing a medical career in the U.S.