What should we eat to be healthy? This question has become more pressing than ever as America faces an obesity epidemic with grave health implications. The federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans answer that weighty question and allow policymakers and educators to speak with one voice about nutrition and health issues.
The guidelines are updated every five years to reflect the latest scientific and medical knowledge, and a new set, along with a revamped Food Pyramid, are due in early 2005. A 13-member committee of top-flight nutritionists and other experts charged with revising the guidelines recently wrapped up work and issued a draft report.
Here are some of the key recommendations from the blue-ribbon panel:
To stem the obesity epidemic, Americans need to reduce the amount of calories they consume, the diet advisory panel concluded, rather than restrict certain foods. Today, two- thirds of Americans are overweight, and half are obese. By comparison, 20 years ago less than half of Americans had a weight problem.
"When it comes to weight control, calories do countnot the proportions of carbohydrate, fat and protein in the diet," the report said.
Since many adults gain weight slowly over time, even small decreases of 50 to 100 calories each day would enable many people to maintain their weight instead of gaining weight each year, the panel said. For children who are gaining excess fat, a similar decrease in energy intake would help them gain healthy weight as they grow.
The experts repeated past advice that 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as walking at a brisk pace of three to four miles per hour) most days is optimum for good health. But they took it a step further, recommending 60 minutes of exercise to prevent unhealthy weight gain and 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity for adults who have shed pounds and want to keep them off.
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