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Nutrition panel advises major changes in diet, more exercise to improve

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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The government's latest round of nutrition advice sounds a lot like what Mom used to say: Eat your vegetables, drink your milk and go play outside.

Just don't expect dessert if you clean your plate.

Most Americans are too overweight to get any extra goodies, concludes a panel of health and nutrition professionals recommending guidelines for a healthy diet that would guard against chronic diseases such as cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Following those guidelines would mean big changes for most Americans, including eating more whole grains and dark green vegetables, cutting way back on added sugars, salt and solid fats like butter and setting aside more time to exercise.

The government will issue final guidelines early next year. It's taking written comments through Sept. 27 at

Here's a look at the panel's recommendations, released Friday, and what it would take to work them into your daily diet.

What it says: Consume a variety of foods within and among the basic food groups while staying within energy needs.

What it means: Choose foods rich in nutrients to make sure you get everything you need without overeating. For most, that means rationing calories from alcoholic beverages and foods high in added sugars or solid fats, since they provide few nutrients.

What it says: Control calorie intake to manage body weight.

What it means: It's the calories, not the carbs, the fat or the protein, that matter for weight loss. Most people simply eat too much. Just cutting back 50 to 100 calories daily can help avoid weight gain in adults and help overweight kids grow into their extra pounds. Eat lots of raw vegetables or low-fat soups to control hunger.

What it says: Be physically active every day.

What it means: Get ready to get busy, especially if you've dropped a few pounds recently. To prevent weight gain, adults need 30 to 60 minutes daily of moderate physical activity. If you've lost weight and want to keep it off, count on 60 to 90 minutes daily. Children should have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. Turn off the TV and do something to keep moving.

What it says: Increase daily intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and reduced-fat milk and milk products.

What it means: Fruits and vegetables guard against strokes, type 2 diabetes and cancer and can help with weight loss. Americans should eat 2 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups daily, depending on calorie needs (4 1/2 cups for a 2,000-calorie diet, for example).

Eat at least 3 ounces daily of whole-grain foods such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal and popcorn instead of refined grains like white rice and white bread.

Drink 3 cups daily of nonfat and low-fat milk or milk products like yogurt to get nutrients like calcium, potassium and vitamin D. If you need less than 1,600 calories a day, stick to 2 cups.

What it says: Choose fats wisely for good health.

What it means: Keep saturated fats below 10 percent of calories, trans fats below 1 percent and cholesterol intake lower than 300 milligrams daily. That means limiting ice cream, bacon, chicken skin and other fatty meats, whole milk and other full-fat dairy products such as cheese and foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils such as fried foods, crackers and cookies.

For cholesterol, limit eggs and organ meats, as well as meat, shellfish, poultry and dairy products that contain fat.

What you should eat: At least two 4-ounce servings a week of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon.

What it says: Choose carbohydrates wisely for good health.

What it means: Pick carbohydrates, essential for energy, from fiber-rich, healthy choices such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk. Watch out for added sugars and sugar-sweetened beverages.

What it says: Choose and prepare foods with little salt.

What it means: Eat far less processed and ready-to-eat foods, which are high in salt. Aim for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (a mandarin chicken salad from Wendy's, for example, consumes two-thirds of a day's allowance, and a can of condensed tomato soup holds three-quarters of a day's supply).

Check nutrition information before buying or eating foods. To blunt the effect of the salt, eat more foods rich in potassium, such as bananas and spinach.

What it says: If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.

What it means: If you choose to drink, limit it to one serving a day for women, two a day for men.

A serving is 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. At that level, alcohol may protect against heart disease.

What it says: Keep food safe to eat.

What it means: Wash hands, fruits, vegetables and contact surfaces. Don't wash meat and poultry, since that can spread bacteria around the kitchen. Cook foods to a safe temperature. Separate raw, cooked and ready-to-eat foods.

Avoid higher-risk foods like hot dogs or deli meats that haven't been reheated to a safe temperature, especially if you're pregnant, very young, an older adult or have a weakened immune system.

Copyright 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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