40 Days of Observing Lent Can Change Your Diet For The Better
For Christians, the Great Lent is upon us. Forty days of fasting is underway, and to some, it might feel like a race to Easter Sunday when the dinner table will be replete with a variety of meat (lamb for the Greeks, of course). The days leading up to Easter Sunday mark a period of reverence and reflection, sacrifice and observance.
This year, Lent also happens to coincide with the federal government’s dietary guidelines. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, comprised of 14 independent experts advising Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), last week released their recommendations, advising Americans on the following:
“The U.S. population should be encouraged and guided to consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and non-fat dairy products and alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains. These dietary patterns can be achieved in many ways and should be tailored to the individual’s biological and medical needs as well as socio-cultural preferences.”
Isn’t this information we all know and try to adhere to? Less sugar, more vegetables. Less alcoholic beverages, more water. Straightforward enough. But not many of us can stick to a healthier regime, at least not for a substantial length of time. It is human nature to require motivation to accomplish most of our goals.
It presents an ideal opportunity to get on track and break bad habits. Establishing a specific and realistic time frame is often the critical factor in transforming our diets. Like Beyoncé’s new Vegan Delivery Service purports, it takes 21 days to break a habit — after 40 days, we should be on our way to living well.
The guidelines challenge our traditional view of nutrition by turning the focus to sustainability, encouraging practices that will result in benefits to the environment. They discuss how a diet with low environmental impacts — less greenhouse gas emissions, land, and water use — will result in positive consequences for the body (and mind). Plant based diets and the Mediterranean diet, which limits red meat consumption and promotes olive oil over butter, are considered low on the environmental impact scale, and typically align with fasting expectations for Lent.
According to Time, nutritionists were satisfied with the government-proposed guidelines. “Wow. I love it. Really I am impressed,” Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, told Time. “The emphasis seems to be ‘here is what your diet should look like overall and if it looks like this, you can’t go very wrong.’ The question is how we rally around it and how effectively it survives the political process.”
Beyond cutting through the red tape (the guidelines must be reviewed by the HHS and USDA), the real question is how to rally Americans, a people who defer to quick, inexpensive, and often unhealthy choices. Accomplishing this would grant the guidelines legitimacy. In addition to the report that presents suggestions for living a more nutrient-full diet, the guidelines would do well to offer recommendations on how to incorporate such nutrition, so that effective policy translates to healthier Americans.