Did you know that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 117 million American adults have at least one preventable chronic disease? That’s about half the population! Although this statistic might sound shocking, the reasons behind it most likely will not. The majority of Americans have not developed healthy eating habits and a solid exercise routine, making chronic disease the leading cause of death and disability in the nation.

To help combat the issue, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture publish new Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years. These findings are meant to promote good health – and prevent chronic disease – through a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. They look at both current and longstanding research to identify areas that need improvement and provide solutions to “shift” toward healthier habits.

The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released at the beginning of this year. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines place particular importance on maintaining a healthy eating pattern over a lifetime. They compare a healthy eating pattern to a puzzle wherein a variety of nutrient-rich foods should be eaten on a regular basis in moderate amounts. The food items are the pieces that make up an individual’s puzzle, and pieces that are too large or too small won’t fit.

Much of what the guidelines present is information we’ve already heard: Limit your intake of saturated fats, whole grain pasta is better than white rice, etc. But what’s particularly helpful is how the guidelines break down information by sex and age. Take for example fruit consumption. From age 9 and up, women are consuming well below the recommended amount of between 1.5 and 2 cups of fruit daily. In particular, teenage girls are falling far below the mark at less than 1 cup per day. In other cases, the problem is not undereating but overeating. Though actual protein consumption in the United States is close to recommended levels, the guidelines suggest men and teenage boys eat less meat, poultry and eggs in favor of more vegetables.

Don’t worry, there’s good news, too! The guidelines state moderate coffee consumption (three to five 8-ounce cups per day) can be part of a healthy diet. Plus, there is promise that a healthy eating pattern can fit into any socio-cultural lifestyle. So even if you have a limited budget to spend at the grocery store or a favorite deep-fried dish that’s been in your family for generations, there are ways to adopt healthier habits.

Together, healthy eating patterns and regular exercise reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease. Evidence suggests they can lower your chances of developing type 2 diabetes and some cancers as well. Although it’s important to develop healthy habits as early on as possible, it is never too late to make a change.

If you’d like to lead a healthier lifestyle, Family Health Centers of San Diego can help. Our team of doctors and nutritionists can set individualized goals and develop a diet and workout routine based on your unique needs, preferences and health risks. Call us today at (619) 515-2300!

To view the complete 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (8th Edition. December 2015) distributed by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, please visit: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.