Americans are being urged to cut back on salt, sugar and fatty meats and to eat more fish and whole grains. The recommendations are part of new dietary guidelines issued January 31 by the U.S. government, and are designed to help the majority of Americans who are overweight or obese.
The World Health Organization says obesity is really a global problem, and nutrition experts say these guidelines are flexible enough to reflect international cultural and religious differences.
You can blame the so-called western diet for part of the problem. Those greasy fried potatoes, red meat, processed foods, as well as lack of exercise, have helped put weight on more than one and a half billion adults around the world.
Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of public health at George Washington University, says too much salt and too much fat all add up to the global junk food diet.
"This is a call to go back to older ways of eating, to eating whole foods, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, more healthy foods,” she said. “Hopefully these guidelines will be noticed worldwide and people will take steps to both increase their physical activity and to eat healthier."
The guidelines are published every five years as part of the U.S. government's nutritional policy. They help schools plan healthy menus for children and manage food assistance programs for the poor.
Robert Post of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion in Washington says the message people can take from these guidelines is simple: Eat more of the good food and less of the bad.
"People should be consuming more nutrient dense foods, meaning that they should be consuming more foods that are vegetables, whole grains and fruits and low fat and fat free milk and milk products," Post stated.
The global problem seems staggering. The World Health Organization projects that by 2015 more than two billion people will be overweight and 700 million of them will be considered obese.
The WHO also says 20 million children under the age of five are already overweight. Health standards define being overweight as having a body mass index of more than 25 and being obese as a BMI (body mass index) of more than 30.
Health experts say people who are overweight or obese run the risk of serious health issues -- cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis and some cancers. Those with a chronic problem of hypertension are advised to limit their intake of salt to 1,500 milligrams a day.
Post says the nutritional guidelines are designed to reflect the tastes of many Americans who are used to a variety of ethnic cuisines.
"Flexibility is necessary and to the extent that we have outlined nutrient needs at different calorie levels and that those choices reflect the typical eating patterns in other countries, I think these guidelines could translate to other parts of the world," Post said.
The experts believe they are putting the best nutritional information out there for people to use. But it is still up to each individual to do the hard work by eating the right way, losing weight and feeling healthy again.