"Our top ten recommendations cut through some of the confusion about how to eat a healthy diet," said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the group that exposed the high calorie and fat content of many restaurant meals. The ten changes are based on published studies, food consumption surveys, and food industry data.
According to CSPI estimates, for the average American the ten changes could:
1. Eat no more than two ounces of full-fat cheese per week. Order your pizza with half the cheese and your sandwich or burger without cheese. Use reduced-fat cheeses at home. "Cheese is one of the top three sources of artery-clogging saturated fat in Americans' diets -- along with beef and milk," said Margo Wootan, a senior scientist at CSPI. "The calcium that cheese provides is better obtained from more healthful sources like lower-fat cheese, fat-free (skim) or 1% milk, low-fat yogurt, calcium-fortified orange juice, or broccoli."
2. Switch from ground beef to ground turkey breast, chicken breast, or veggieburgers. Americans get more saturated fat from ground beef than from all other beef combined. Ordering a grilled chicken sandwich (without mayo) instead of a Whopper or a Big Mac will save more than one third of a day's saturated fat.
3. Limit processed foods with 480 mg of sodium or more per serving to one a day. Seventy-five percent of the sodium in Americans' diets comes from foods like soups, pizza, frozen dinners, pasta sauces, lunch meats, hot dogs, and ham. "It's processed foods, not the salt shaker, that's raising Americans' blood pressure," said Wootan. "Reading food labels and choosing foods with as little sodium as possible is the most effective way to cut back."
4. Switch from stick margarine or butter to a reduced-fat tub margarine. Margarine and butter are major contributors of saturated fat, and margarine is the biggest source of cholesterol-raising trans fat. Since three-quarters of the margarine and butter used at home ends up on bread or as a topping for other foods, changing is as easy as dipping your knife into a lower-fat tub margarine. Try lower-fat tubs like Smart Beat, Fleischmann's Lower-Fat, or Promise Ultra.
5. Switch from processed meats like ham, bacon, hot dogs, sausages, bologna, and other luncheon meats to their reduced-fat or fat-free counterparts. Processed meats are the second leading source of fat in Americans' diets. Try low-fat or fat-free bologna and hot dogs made by Healthy Choice, Oscar Mayer, or Hormel; turkey bacon or low-fat ham from Louis Rich or Oscar Mayer; or low-fat sausage from Healthy Choice.
6. Switch from 2% or whole milk to 1% or fat-free (skim) milk. Whole and 2% milk make up 75 percent of the milk consumed in the U.S. Switching to lower-fat milk is as easy as reaching to the other side of the dairy case and picking up 1% or fat-free milk instead of whole or 2%. "Our taste tests have shown that nine out of ten consumers like the taste of either 1% or fat-free milk," said Dr. Wootan.
7. Eat at least three servings of vegetables with dinner each night and two servings of fruit as a snack each day. For many people, that's the easiest way to jump from three and a half servings a day -- where most Americans are stuck -- to five to ten servings, which health authorities recommend. Making this change is easy because servings are small: half a cup of most vegetables, one cup of salad, and one piece of most fruit.
8. Eat at least three servings of whole grains a day. Eating more whole grains may lower the risk of heart disease, diverticulosis, cancer, and diabetes and help prevent constipation. Choose whole wheat bread and breakfast cereals like raisin bran, Cheerios, shredded wheat, Grape-Nuts, Wheaties, and oatmeal. One serving is a slice of bread, an ounce of ready-to-eat cereal, or half a cup of rice or pasta.
9. Eat four half-cup servings of beans, peas, and lentils per week. Like other vegetables, beans, peas, and lentils can cut the risk of cancer, heart disease, diverticulosis, diabetes, and constipation. The average American eats a little under a cup a week. To double that, try bean dip with low-fat tortilla chips; add canned (rinsed) garbanzo beans to salad; heat some drained, rinsed black beans and serve over brown rice and top with salsa; use hummus on a sandwich or as a dip; or try a bean burrito.
10. Switch from soft drinks to seltzer, orange juice, or skim milk. The average American consumes 50 gallons of soda pop a year, roughly double the milk we drink. Try regular or flavored seltzer. You'll save 160 calories and ten teaspoons of sugar for each 12-ounce can of non-diet soda you skip. If you have calories to spare, drink 100% fruit juice, which could help reduce your risk of cancer, or fat-free or 1% milk, which could reduce your risk of osteoporosis.
CSPI is a nonprofit, health organization that focuses on nutrition and food safety. It is based in Washington, D.C., and is supported largely by the one million subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter. The organization is well known for obtaining nutrition labeling on all packaged foods and for its nutritional studies of restaurant foods. CSPI accepts no government or industry funding.