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WASHINGTON - New government dietary guidelines are in the works that might suggest people eat more fish and other foods with healthy fats but cut back on foods with harmful fats such as potato chips.
The White House Office of Management and Budget wrote the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments Wednesday urging them to revise guidelines to distinguish between trans fats, which increase the risk of heart disease, and fats such as omega-3, which can lower the risk.
"The current dietary guidelines target only the reduction of saturated fat and cholesterol, with only a a brief reference to the risks from trans fatty acids and benefits of omega-3 fatty acids," said John Graham, the Bush administration's chief regulatory watchdog as head of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
Concerns about trans fatty acids, or trans fats, have increased in recent years as more studies show they increase the risk of heart disease by lowering levels of good cholesterol, or HDL, while raising level of bad cholesterol, LDL.
The recommendation comes just as officials at HHS and the Agriculture Department prepare to start writing new food nutrition guidelines to be issued in 2005. The guidelines, revised every five years, are the basis for food labeling and meal planning at schools in the federal lunch program, which feeds more than 28-million low-income children daily.
The Food Guide Pyramid, on the other hand, has not been updated since 1992. Graham called for updating it, too. John Webster of the Agriculture Department said officials are working on changing the well-known pyramid, which will be released in 2005.
Alisa Harrison of the Agriculture Department said it is too soon to tell whether OMB's recommendations will be included in the revisions. The government is selecting experts for an advisory panel to help write the changes.
"They will consider evidence not only for the relationships between diet and cardiovascular disease but for all aspects of health," Harrison said.
Trans fats form when vegetable oil is heated in the presence of hydrogen. Hydrogenation hardens them at room temperature and makes products such as grease and shortening - ingredients for frying and baking.
Unlike other fats, trans fat is a hidden fat because it is not labeled on food packages. That might be changed soon by the Food and Drug Administration. Under pressure from the White House, the agency has a proposal to require companies to list the amount of the harmful fat in their products.
The FDA is looking at putting a warning on foods that have trans fat, a move consumer groups support but the food industry opposes.
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