US diet advice: cut saturated fat, skip sugars

September 10, 2002 in Healthy Eating, Heart Health, Nutrition Topics in the News

US diet advice: cut saturated fat, skip sugars

To maintain health and reduce risk of heart disease and cancer, Americans should try to eliminate saturated fats and added sugars from their diets and get at least an hour of physical activity a day, a panel of government health advisers said last week.

These targets are for healthy people who want to maintain, not lose, weight, and who want to minimize their risk of chronic disease.

The Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board also recommended that Americans get 45%-65% of their calories from carbohydrates, 20%-35% from fat and 10%-35% from protein.

The previous recommendations, made in 1989, advised a daily allowance of 50% or more for carbohydrates and 30% or less of fat. The protein recommendation was similar.

Currently, the average American diet is 52% carbohydrate, 33% fat and 15% protein. However, Americans are eating too much saturated fat, not getting enough physical activity, and eating too many calories.

Saturated fat is in meats, baked goods, and full-fat dairy products. The panel said it is "not required at any level in the diet" because it has no known beneficial role in preventing disease. But since it would be difficult for Americans to eliminate it, they should keep saturated fat to as low a level as possible.

Trans fatty acids, found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and shortening used in crackers, cookies, fast food and some dairy products, increase heart disease risk by elevating LDL "bad" cholesterol. The board says that there is no safe level of trans fatty acids and people should eat as little of them as possible.

It also said added sugars in soft drinks and processed foods should make up no more than 25% of the total daily caloric intake. The Center for Science in the Public Interest criticized that target, saying that it was still too high.

In addition to intake recommendations, the Board also placed a new emphasis on exercise, doubling the Surgeon General's recommended half-hour of activity daily.

The Board also recommended new daily intakes for linoleic and alpha-linoleic acids, found in vegetable oils made from safflower, corn, soybean and flax, walnuts, and walnut oil.

And it defined new fiber intake requirements, but said the data are inconclusive on whether fiber can help with weight control or prevent colon cancer.

The recommendations are in line with those by the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and others to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

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