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Federal panel advises less salt, saturated fat and more cooking

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From the NY Times: The latest federal suggestions for how Americans should eat were issued on Tuesday morning: You can have an egg for breakfast, just not the bacon. There is nothing wrong with eating meat, but the government admits vegetarians might be on to something.

As always, we need to eat more vegetables and grains, and less salt. And everyone needs to cook more.

The advice comes from a 13-member board of scientists and nutritionists appointed by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services Departments to rework the Dietary Guidelines for All Americans.

The guidelines are reassessed every five years so the government can adjust the official federal position on what constitutes a healthy diet.

This might mean nothing to the average home cook, who worries more about braising times and bagged salad than micronutrients and milligrams. But the guidelines affect what’s served in public schools and anywhere else government money contributes to the food budget, including prisons.

It is the information on which the food pyramid is built and also forms the basis for the work of many the nation’s nutritionists and dietitians.

Perhaps most important for consumers, the guidelines are used to create the formulas in the nutritional information labels on almost every package product.

For the food industry, whether pork producers, vegetable farmers or processors of potato chips and soda, even slight changes in the recommended levels of fruit, salt or other aspects of the typical American diet can mean millions of dollars won or lost in the grocery stores

The guidelines won’t be officially issued until the fall, after the Agriculture Department has a chance to consider the advisory committee’s report and listen to public comment on them.

Among the suggestions:

  • Lower the maximum daily amount of sodium to 1,500 milligrams from 2,300 milligrams. The current dietary guidelines suggest the lower limit for adults with high blood pressure, but the advisory committee members believe the number of people at-risk for health problems connected to sodium is so great the entire ceiling should be lower. That won’t be easy. Americans on average consume more than 3,400 milligrams daily, according to the American Heart Association.
  • Eat less “solid fat,” another way to describe saturated fat. The means fewer processed meats like sausages, bacon and ribs. The total amount of saturated fat in the daily diet should drop to 7 percent of total calories, from the previously recommended 10 percent.
  • Drink fewer sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Eat more seafood and low-fat dairy products.
  • Eat more vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds. The report suggests that people who are on a vegetarian diet have lower blood pressure and weigh less. As a corollary, access to fresh produce needs to be improved.
  • Nutritional education, cooking skills and food safety needs to be strengthened, especially among families. The idea is to get people to cook and eat at home more.
  • Lose the concept of “discretionary calories,” which was added in 2005. The idea was that people who ate according to the guidelines would have a handful of calories left over to indulge in ice cream or chips or other food with less nutritional value compared with the calorie hit. The more physically active you are, the more discretionary calories you could have.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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