By IRA DREYFUSS
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) Not just any bread will do: Americans need more fiber, and whole wheat is better than white bread for getting it, a panel of scientists and doctors said Friday.
The federal advisory panel was offering its final recommendations for making the government's food pyramid a better guide to proper eating.
But diet alone is not enough. The guidelines should put a new emphasis on exercise and other physical activity, the committee said. It explained that most people seeking to control their weight need 60 to 90 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily.
About two-thirds of the nation's population is overweight or obese, according to the latest government figures.
The recommendations play down the current guidelines' highlighted advice to “choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugars.” Americans still should control their intake of sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, particularly people who need to watch their weight, the guidelines say, but they do not include advice among nine major points the new proposals stress.
The panel's report goes to government officials who will prepare a final version for the secretaries of Agriculture and of Health and Human Services. The final dietary guidelines and the updated food pyramid are due out early next year. The guidelines also will be used in decision-making for other federal programs such as planning menus for school lunches.
To get more fiber, people should eat at least three one-ounce servings of whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, preferably as a substitute for refined grains such as white bread, according to the recommendations. Whole grains are rich in 14 nutrients including fiber, which has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
“We need more fiber,” said Eric Hentges, executive director of the Agriculture Department's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. “It's getting a balance of our enriched grains and our whole grains, and the whole grains are the ones that are out of balance and lacking right now.”
The new report puts a strong emphasis on getting calories under control and pays no heed to popular diets that focus on specific nutrients, such as counting carbohydrates.
“To stem the obesity epidemic, most Americans need to reduce the amount of calories they consume,” the report said. “When it comes to weight control, calories do count not the proportions of carbohydrate, fat and protein in the diet.”
The new proposals allow “discretionary calories,” including sweet treats, for the minority of Americans who eat and exercise right and get their nutrients without exceeding their calorie limits.
The change on sweeteners was welcomed by the sugar industry, which had argued that the committee should focus on total calories, not specific nutrients.
“Sugar is part of many, many healthful foods,” said Cheryl Digges, director of public policy and education at the Sugar Association, an industry group. “The previous message was too simplistic.”
The Sugar Association gave the committee its position as the experts developed their report, but it's hard to say how much influence the association had, Digges said. Panel members also considered comments from groups that wanted limits on sugar calories.
David Schardt, a nutrition specialist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, one of the groups favoring limits on sugar consumption, said some members of the advisory committee were food industry consultants who “could have been pushing the industry point of view.”
The report, however, does advise people to limit their added sugar, and the final government guidelines may make the advice more clear, Schardt said.
The report also said people should put tight limits on fats that can clog arteries and lead to heart disease. Trans fats found in many processed foods such as baked and fried products should be kept below one percent of calories, it said.
People also should eat more fruits and vegetables as a low-calorie way to get nutrients, including vitamin C, as well as fiber, the report said. Servings could range from 2 1/2 cups to 6 1/2 cups a day, depending on how many calories a person burns, it said.
For stronger bones, people should use lowfat or nonfat milk or milk products, such as skim milk or yogurt, the panel said. It recommended three cups of milk a day or the equivalent in other dairy foods.
Advice on salt also should be revised to deal with high blood pressure, the panel said. It recommended salt intake of no more than 2,300 milligrams a day, the equivalent of one teaspoon and 100 milligrams below the current guidelines.
On the Net: