Expect more nutrition guidelines from Uncle Sam

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and author of “Southern Living: The Slim Down South Cookbook.” Email her at carolyn@carolynoneil.com.

From supermarket shelves to restaurant menus, there are several significant changes in the works aimed at making it easier to choose healthier foods and drinks.

National regulations requiring restaurants to post nutrition information on menus are expected to swing into action this year, and the Nutrition Facts food label is undergoing a makeover by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Meanwhile, a committee of the nation’s top nutrition and health experts has begun a series of meetings to develop the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Every five years since 1980, the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the Department of Health and Human Services jointly publish a new edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines are based on the latest science and focus on updating advice for eating a healthful diet to help achieve and maintain a healthy weight, promote good health and prevent disease.

What to eat now

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 — which contain 23 key recommendations and six additional recommendations for specific populations such as pregnant women — can be boiled down to three major goals for everyone (Dietaryguidelines.gov):

  • Balance calories with physical activity to manage weight.
  • Consume more of certain foods and nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and seafood.
  • Consume fewer foods with sodium (salt), saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, and refined grains.

Defining what’s healthy

Choosing good foods for good health goes beyond vitamins listed on a food label. Here’s a list of USDA definitions that may help you better understand other health-oriented label claims on foods you buy.

Organic: Indicates that the food was produced through approved methods that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, irradiation and genetic engineering may not be used. If you see the USDA organic seal, the product is certified organic and has 95 percent or more organic content.

Free-range: Indicates the flock was provided shelter in a building or area with unlimited access to food, fresh water and continuous access to the outdoors.

Cage-free: Indicates the flock was able to freely roam a building or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water.

Pasture-raised: Due to the number of variables involved in pasture-raised agricultural systems, the USDA has not developed a federal definition for pasture-raised products.

No added hormones: A similar claim includes "raised without hormones." Federal regulations have never permitted hormones or steroids in poultry, pork or goat.