updated 8/23/2004 4:37:11 PM ET 2004-08-23T20:37:11

Americans should cut calories and salt, eat more whole grain products and do moderate exercise like brisk walking or gardening for at least 30 minutes a day, federal advisers said Wednesday.

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The 13-member federal advisory panel is revising dietary guidelines to help Americans eat right, control their weight and reduce their risk of disease. Its work will be incorporated into revisions of the Food Guide Pyramid.

With almost two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese, calorie intake needs to be curtailed, the panel said. Members agreed with federal exercise guidelines that call for at least 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity.

Americans who are considering dieting should not be distracted by a currently fashionable concept, the glycemic index, the panel said. The index shows the speed at which foods are converted into sugars in the body. Carbohydrates are converted faster than proteins, and backers of high protein diets and foods have promoted their products as having better scores on the index.

Although some research has suggested a lower glycemic index indicates a lower risk of diabetes, the evidence is not solid enough for all people to base their basic eating plans upon, the panel decided.

Healthier food choices suggested
Members also said eating whole grain products rather than refined grains is a way to reduce risks of heart disease and other conditions.

Fruits, vegetables and milk products also reduce the risks of a number of chronic diseases, the panel said. It recommended five-to-13 servings a day of fruits and vegetables.

As for milk, it called on people to drink nonfat or lowfat milk, three cups a day for those who ordinarily burn few calories.

The committee also recommended that people eat two servings of fish per week, especially those types of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids to reduce risk of heart disease.

And it suggested adults should cut their intake of salt, which is linked to high blood pressure, to less than 2,300 milligrams, about one level teaspoon, for the day. That's 100 milligrams below the recommendation people see on current Nutrition Facts labels of food packages.

The committee will submit its recommendations to the secretaries of Agriculture and of Health and Human Services. Afterward, the public will have 30 days to submit comments, which will then be reviewed.

Once final guidelines are drafted, they will be incorporated into the Agriculture Department's Food Guide Pyramid. The new dietary guidelines and food pyramid are expected to be released in January.

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