USDA and SparkPeople Agree: Calories Count!

Bet you never thought you’d see the day when the federal government was the hallmark of clarity and common sense. But it just happened.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) just released the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. The common sense findings of the Guidelines (and SparkPeople wholeheartedly agrees) place emphasis right where it belongs – on calories. In the mad, mad, mad, mad world of weight loss, it’s a breath of fresh air.

Nobody does more research to get to the truth of nutrition and healthy living than HHS. Nobody. No other research organization dedicates as many man-hours and resources solely to learn which nutritional tactics really work and which are better suited for the fiction aisle. And even for these research masterminds, the Guidelines were a challenge. According to Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, "The process we used to develop these recommendations was more rigorous and more transparent than ever before."

So when the scientific method and common sense fuse together in the laboratory, it’s a good reason to sit up and take notice. Here’s what their research found and what is actually kind of exciting: Balancing nutrients is not enough for health. Calories also count.

In fact, the Guidelines place even more emphasis on reducing calories than before.

This is no surprise to SparkPeople members. They’ve seen this in action for years. To lose weight and stay healthy, cut calories and increase physical activity. It’s that simple. It’s just nice to see this truth backed up by hundreds of women and men in white coats. And it’s exciting to know that weight loss can be as simple as "calories in" vs. "calories out" without gimmicks, pastes or starvation pills.

Still, the Guidelines are incomplete.

Guidelines are nice. But giving someone guidelines without a plan and the right tools is like warning drivers not to speed while taking away their speedometers. You know what you’re supposed to do – how do you know if you’re doing it right?

That’s where does something the Guidelines cannot: give you tools and resources to know if you’re on track for a healthy lifestyle. SparkPeople’s tracking, planning and motivation tools supply the answer to the burning question of "How do I apply this to my day-to-day life?"

Here are some examples of how you can use SparkPeople to follow the new USDA Guidelines without confusion or uncertainty:

Guidelines Recommend: Balance calories from foods and beverages with calories expended.
SparkPeople In Action: Track your calories eaten and calories burned with simple lookup tools and tracking information.

Guidelines Recommend: A variety of fruits and vegetables, whole-grain products and fat-free dairy products.
SparkPeople In Action: Meal plans geared to your specific calorie needs provide variety and the nutrients you need. Articles, comparison charts and healthy recipes point you in the right direction for creating a healthy menu.

Guidelines Recommend: A total fat intake of 20-35% of total calories.
SparkPeople In Action: Instant reports and nutritional totals give you real-time information about your current fat levels.

Guidelines Recommend: Consume less than 2,300 mg (approximately 1 teaspoon of salt) of sodium per day.
SparkPeople In Action: Track any nutrient you can think of, simply by selecting what you eat using the searchable 10,000-food database. No guesswork here.

Guidelines Recommend: To prevent weight gain, engage in 60 minutes of activity on most days of the week.
SparkPeople In Action: Track cardio minutes and other fitness while knowing exactly how many calories you’ve burned.

Guidelines Recommend: Include cardiovascular conditioning, stretching exercises for flexibility, and resistance exercises or calisthenics for muscle strength and endurance.
SparkPeople In Action: Choose from dozens of cardio and strength exercises and stretching options to build a customized fitness plan, and use animated demonstrations to learn how to do them safely and effectively.

Click here to read all of the recommendations within the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005.

The Dietary Guidelines report is interested in helping Americans with weight control, stronger muscles and bones, and chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. According to HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, "Promoting good dietary habits is key to reducing the growing problems of obesity and physical inactivity, and to gaining the health benefits that come from a nutritionally balanced diet."

SparkPeople couldn’t agree more.