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Federal Diet Panel Recommends Cutting Trans-Fat, Salt

August 28, 2004|Rosie Mestel | Times Staff Writer

Americans should cut their salt intake to roughly a teaspoon a day, exercise at least 30 minutes most days and eat two fish meals each week to bulk up on omega-3 fatty acids. These are some of the recommendations for healthy living from the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee after a yearlong review of the science surrounding food and human health.

The government, which released the panel's report Friday, will use the recommendations to reshape the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

School lunch programs, food labeling and government nutrition education are all shaped by the dietary guidelines, which consist of seven to 10 simply worded nutrition tips and several dozen pages of explanatory text. The food guide pyramid, currently undergoing its own overhaul, must also fall in line with them.

Much of the panel's advice is similar to that contained in the last version of the guidelines, written in 2000, but the committee did break some new ground.

For instance, for the first time it recommended that Americans slash their consumption of heart-unhealthy trans-fatty acids, the partially hydrogenated vegetable oils found in stick margarine and many pies, cookies and fried foods -- advising that people keep their intake at or below 1% of total calories.

The committee ramped down the amount of salt people should aim for in their diets -- less than 2,300 milligrams daily.

It also recommended at least three servings of whole grains daily.

"These are important advances ... overall, we're pleased with the document," said David Schardt, senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

The guidelines prescribe more physical exercise for people who have been overweight in the past -- as much as 90 minutes daily if they want to keep the pounds off. The recommendation for those who have not been overweight remains 30 minutes or more most days.

The final version of the guidelines, written by staff from the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, will be released to the public in 2005. But the advisory panel has compiled a list of key points, presented here verbatim:

* Consume a variety of foods within and among the basic food groups while staying within energy needs.

* Control calorie intake to manage body weight.

* Be physically active every day.

* Increase daily intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and nonfat or low-fat milk and milk products.

* Choose fats wisely for good health.

* Choose carbohydrates wisely for good health.

* Choose and prepare foods with little salt.

* If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.

* Keep food safe to eat.

The list does not include a recommendation to limit sugar, although other parts of the report, citing scientific studies, caution against overindulging to avoid weight gain and nutrient deficiency.

Every previous version of the guidelines -- this will be the sixth -- has included a recommendation in the list to limit sugar intake.

Cheryl Digges, director of public policy and education for the Sugar Assn., a trade group for beet and cane sugar producers and processors, termed the lack of a sugar statement "a positive step."

But Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, criticized the panel for the omission.

This week, for example, a study of thousands of nurses reported that sugary drinks appeared to be linked to increased body weight and diabetes risk.

"It is perfectly clear that consuming less sugar-sweetened beverages is a really good idea," Nestle said.

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