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March 15, 2000

Heart group revising fat guidelines

By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY

After sticking to the same advice for decades, the American Heart Association is reconsidering its guidelines on how much fat we should eat.

The heart association diet is considered the gold standard in the nutrition community, and even minor changes could have ripple effects in the food and diet worlds.

The group is discussing:

 More individualized diet plans for people with specific conditions, such as diabetes.

 Changes in the types and amounts of fat recommended.

 More restricted fat intake for some people, such as those with heart disease.

This is good news to some experts, including best-selling diet pioneers Dean Ornish, who says the heart association now allows too much fat for some people with heart disease; and Andrew Weil, who says the association's fat balance is awry.

Currently, the heart association's recommended diet for healthy Americans suggests no more than 30% of calories from fat. The guidelines call for less than 10% of calories from saturated fat (fatty meats, whole milk); up to 10% from polyunsaturated fat (vegetable oils such as corn); and up to 15% from monounsaturated fat (olive oil ).

The current guidelines are acceptable, but "it may well be that we have to individualize people's prescription," says Robert Eckel, chairman of the heart association's nutrition committee. One thing is sure, he says: "The saturated fat restriction will remain a strong message."

The new guidelines are scheduled to be released in May or June after they have been reviewed by the heart association and outside advisers, he says.

Ornish, director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif., favors an extremely low-fat diet for some heart patients. "A 10% fat diet can reverse heart disease and lower cholesterol by almost 40% without drugs."

Weil, author of Eating Well for Optimum Health, says monounsaturated fats should play a bigger role in Americans' diets.

Felicia Busch, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says the revamping is overdue: "I'm glad they are looking at the more current research and realizing that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to fat intake."

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