Practice Alert

How to help adults meet dietary recommendations

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Dietary guidelines provide scientifically sound and practical advice that, if followed by every person, would probably result in less obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and bone loss. But few US adults meet these recommendations, according to a recent report in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).1

Data from the 2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance system indicate that only 12.3% of US adults consumed the recommended amount of fruit and 10% the recommended amount of vegetables (more on that shortly). Women were more likely than men to meet the requirements for fruit (14.5% vs 10.1%) and vegetable (12.4% vs 7.6%) intake. The vegetable recommendation was more likely to be met by those in higher income households than those in the lowest income categories (12.2% vs 6.8%).1

Just what’s recommended? The most recent dietary guidelines from the Department of Agriculture suggest that adults should consume 1.5 to 2 cup-equivalents of fruits and 2 to 3 cup-equivalents of vegetables each day.2 What is a cup-equivalent? Examples include: 1 cup of a raw, or cooked, vegetable or fruit; 1 cup of fruit juice; 2 cups of leafy salad greens; or 1/2 cup of a dried fruit or vegetable. Additional recommendations are that added sugar constitute < 10% of calories per day, saturated fat < 10% of calories per day, and sodium < 2300 mg per day.

Simplify the message to this … There’s an easy message for clinicians to provide to patients: Consume 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day; increase intake of whole grains, seafood, nuts, and seeds; choose fat-free and low-fat dairy products; and avoid sugary beverages and foods. But as we know, recommending that patients do something and actually having them do it are often 2 different things. So how can we tip the scales in a healthier direction?

Advise patients not to go it alone. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends intensive behavioral interventions to alter eating habits. These interventions include individual or group counseling sessions over extended periods (eg, 6 hours of contact time over 6 to 18 months), including some 1-on-1 time with a specially trained professional, such as a primary care physician, nurse, registered dietitian, or nutritionist. The good news is that, for those with cardiovascular risk factors (dyslipidemia, elevated blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension), this is a level “B” recommendation—meaning these interventions should be covered by commercial health insurance with no out-of-pocket cost to patients.3

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