updated 8/11/2004 9:24:42 PM ET 2004-08-12T01:24:42

That food pyramid could get a little wider in the fruits and vegetables section.

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A federal advisory panel recommended Wednesday that Americans eat five to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, compared with the five to nine servings now recommended.

The panel is developing an update of 4-year-old dietary guidelines that will form the basis for revisions to the Agriculture Department’s familiar food pyramid.

The goal is to help change their habits, said Eric Hentges, executive director of the Agriculture Department’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. While about 80 percent of Americans recognize the pyramid, only about 2 percent to 4 percent apply its principles, he said.

“We’ve got good science,” Hentges said. “Our challenge is to implement this into good policy.”

Hentges said the final report would include lists and charts to help people apply the principles.

Food processors have already taken some steps that will bring them in line with the new dietary plans, with some products already dropping trans fats, Hentges said. The committee wanted as little as possible in foods, because they have been linked to higher cholesterol levels, which raise the chance of heart attack.

The recommendations urge greater consumption of fiber, which is found in whole-grain foods, and say most people should drink three cups a day of milk — albeit nonfat or lowfat.

Focus on overweight
Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and that was a chief concern of advisers during their daylong meeting. They sought ways to help people avoid diabetes, heart disease and other diseases that result from people carrying too much weight.

The panel said adults ought to do at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week; even better would be 60 minutes. The guidance has been that people ought to be physically active each day.

People 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.

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

The advisers did not address the low-carb diet craze. They said eating whole grain products rather than refined grains is a way to reduce risks of heart disease and other conditions.

More fish, less salt
As for fruits and vegetables, the panel said the number of servings would vary based on the number of calories a person needs to maintain a healthy, stable weight. People who need more, such as active teenagers, could eat more.

In an additional change from the 2000 guidelines, the committee 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.

Adults should cut their intake of salt, which is linked to high blood pressure, to less than 2,300 milligrams a day, the panel suggested. The salt recommendation is slightly less.

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

Once final guidelines are written, they will be incorporated into the Agriculture Department’s Food Guide Pyramid, which was developed in 1992.

The new dietary guidelines and food pyramid are expected to be released in early 2005.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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