updated 9/1/2004 12:06:38 PM ET 2004-09-01T16:06:38

Not any bread will do, a panel of doctors and scientists told the government Friday in issuing its final recommendations about what advice should go into the federal food pyramid.

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People should eat at least three one-ounce servings of whole grains each day, preferably in place of refined grains, or white bread, the proposals for the five-year update of the government’s nutrition advice say.

The advisers and the government want Americans to balance the calories they get from food with the calories they burn in physical activity. But with almost two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese, officials realize they have an uphill fight.

“We have to have a good behavior change implementation to address this serious problem of obesity and overweight,” said Eric Hentges, executive director of the Agriculture Department’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, which will use the guidelines as it revamps the pyramid.

More exercise
The committee also called for Americans to control their weight by being physically active. And the recommendations could keep people very busy. To prevent weight gain, many people should do up to 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous activity, and those who have lost weight and want to keep it off may have to do up to 90 minutes, the report said.

Unlike the current guidelines, issued in 2000, the new recommendations do not specifically tell people to be moderate in their use of added sugars, such as regular sodas. Sugar provides energy, the report noted. But the scientists and doctors are not letting Americans off the hook. They say people still have to be careful in their intake as a way to keep their weight under control.

The recommendations go to federal officials who will prepare reports for the secretaries of Agriculture and of Health and Human Services, who must approve the findings before they can be issued. Officials expect the final nutrition report, and an updated version of the food pyramid, to come out early next year.

Focus on whole grains
On whole grains, the panel said people should eat more as a way to get more fiber. Fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, the report said.

However, the panel still allowed room for refined grains.

“This is an issue of balance,” Hentges said. “We are kind of out of balance now. We need more fiber. It’s getting a balance of enriched grains and whole grains.”

The advisers also introduced a new concept for the guidelines — discretionary calories.

Those are calories needed just for energy, after people have eaten foods rich in nutrients and thereby met their requirements for vitamins, minerals and other necessities for health. Discretionary calories could be considered treats calories, because they don’t have to be from nutrient-rich foods.

Discretionary calories are the reward for living right. And Americans who are overweight or obese don’t have discretionary calories, Hentges said. “They used them up a long time ago,” he said. To get them back, they will have to burn more calories by being more active, he said.

The panel called on people to:

  • Consume a variety of foods within and among the basic food groups while staying within energy needs;
  • Control calorie intake to manage body weight;
  • Be physically active each day;
  • Increase daily intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and nonfat or lowfat milk and milk products;
  • Choose carbohydrates wisely for good health;
  • Choose and prepare foods with little salt;
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation;
  • Keep food safe to eat.

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