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Feb. 4, 2000

New diet guidelines seek healthier eating

WASHINGTON (AP) - The government is trying a more upbeat approach to getting Americans to eat right and watch their weight. Proposed new dietary guidelines call eating ''one of life's greatest pleasures'' and urge consumers to ''be flexible and adventurous'' in picking foods.

The guidelines, which were developed by a panel of 11 nutrition experts, don't make any major changes in recommendations from the existing version but include special sections for the first time on whole grains and food safety and expanded advice on weight control.

They also provide more specific choices of foods and ways to prepare them, while advising consumers not to ''overdo on fat (especially saturated fat), sugars, salt and alcohol.''

The guidelines were first published in 1980 and are revised every five years to reflect the latest developments in scientific research. Federally funded nutrition programs are required to adhere to the recommendations, and they are also widely used by professionals and dietitians in advising clients.

''They've done a really nice job of developing guidelines that are really user-friendly and correspond with what we know from the current literature,'' said Cyndi Thompson, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

The departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services are to take public comment on the revised version before making it final later this year.

The new guidelines include some subtle changes in wording meant to make it easier for consumers to adhere to the maximum recommended fat intake while emphasizing that consumers should cut down on the saturated fats found in meat and dairy products.

The current guidelines on fat recommend that people follow a diet that is low in total fat. The new recommendation is for a diet that is ''moderate in total fat,'' but low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Research by the food industry indicates consumers are put off by the term low-fat and see a moderate-fat diet as easier to follow, even if the fat content is the same. The recommended maximum fat intake is still 30% of total calories, or 65 grams a day in a 2,000 calorie diet.

''What they're trying to do is come up with wording that is positive and has some degree of hope,'' said Thompson, a nutrition expert at the University of Arizona. ''They're trying to say: Be moderate, be sensible, that all foods can fit into a healthy diet, you just can't overconsume.''

The meat industry doesn't like the change in wording, fearing that it will put a stigma on beef and pork.

''We believe it's a real unfair implication,'' said Al Tank, chief executive officer of the National Pork Producers Council. ''The implication is that you should avoid all foods of animal origin.''

''Food choices should not be just about the amount of fat consumed,'' said Mary K. Young, executive director, nutrition, at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. ''Food choices should take into account the important nutrients in foods that are needed for healthy diets.'' She said beef is a good source of iron, zinc, protein and B vitamins.

Groups representing vegetarians and racial minorities say the advisory committee that wrote the revision is biased toward the meat and dairy industries and filed suit to block the government from using the guidelines. A judge refused last week to block the committee's work from being released.

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