American Heart Association says eat those vegetables and reduce portion sizes

Wednesday, October 25th 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

By Sherry Jacobson / The Dallas Morning News

Americans need to get back to a basic, healthy diet and stop obsessing about fat vs. non-fat foods, the American Heart Association says.

In recommending the new dietary guidelines, the group is hoping to refocus the nation's eating habits on food groups, calorie counting and portion control. Its previous diet regimen, issued in 1996, was a complicated calculation that divided a day's calories between fatty foods and complex carbohydrates.

The new approach, announced earlier this month, comes at a time when half of U.S. adults are considered overweight.

"In the past, we have focused rather heavily on the percent of calories as fat and amounts of cholesterol," explains Dr. Ronald M. Krauss, the principal author of the new rules and a senior scientist at the University of California at Berkeley. "It is much easier to think about the various food groups. We are emphasizing the positive message that people should eat, for example, more plant-based foods."

However, Americans should continue to limit their consumption of saturated fats, he stresses. "But if they follow the new dietary guidelines, they will be consuming a balanced diet rich in nutrients and [they] may not need to calculate percentages or amounts of specific dietary components."

The new guidelines simply recommend that healthy adults consume:

At least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily

Six or more servings of whole grains and legumes (beans)

Six ounces of lean meat or poultry per day

At least two servings of fatty fish, such as tuna or salmon per week

No more than one alcoholic drink per day for women and two for men, for those who consume alcohol

To prevent weight gain, the new guidelines also recommend at least 30 minutes of brisk walking daily, compared with previous guidelines that urged exercise three or four times per week. The walking can be done all at once or in segments throughout the day.

The guidelines also stress the importance of preventing obesity, which research has shown can contribute to medical problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

The association's diet plan recommends a gradual weight loss – no more than one to two pounds per week – using a simple process of cutting calories and increasing exercise.

By making the guidelines easier to understand and follow, the Heart Association is conceding that its previous diet formula may have been misinterpreted, says Dr. Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University who helped write the new guidelines. The previous guidelines instructed adults to divide their daily caloric intake by percentages, allowing less than 30percent of the total calories to be consumed from fat and 55percent to 60percent from complex carbohydrates.

"It's difficult for the average person to calculate a percentage when they're looking at a plate of food," Dr. Lichtenstein explains.

The formula may have had the effect of encouraging people to consume excessive amounts of non-fat foods in the belief that they were healthier than food that contained fat, she said. "We've seen a proliferation of non-fat foods with an aura that they are good for you. But they were not low-calorie products."

The new guidelines also seek to re-establish portion sizes in the face of supersized fast food servings and growing American appetites.

The Heart Association's diet campaign will try to drive home the point that a 3-ounce portion of meat equals half a chicken breast or a medium-sized pork chop or a hamburger patty that is 3 inches across and half an inch thick.

"A serving size is not a giant bagel that fills an entire platter or a bowl of soup you could lose your arm in," says Dr. Nina Radford, a cardiologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.

She advises that people develop a strategy for eating, particularly when they eat in restaurants that are known for serving massive portions of food.

"If the meal comes with fries, tell them not to put the fries on your plate," she suggests. "If the serving is huge, cut it in half immediately and put it in a doggy bag. Do whatever you can to resist the temptation to overeat."

Likewise, Americans must develop a new attitude toward snacking, Dr. Radford cautions. "Why does a treat need to be something sugary? We need to get back to the idea that an apple is a treat."

The Heart Association dietary approach also tackles the issue of high-protein diets, which have attracted an enthusiastic nationwide following. The association's guidelines note that there is "no scientific evidence to support the concepts that high protein diets result in sustained weight loss, significant changes in metabolism or improved health."

Dr. Radford adds that she has heard many anecdotal reports of weight loss using high-protein diets. "Patients are reporting anecdotes that they lost weight and their cholesterol is better," she says. "We have to find if there is scientific evidence to support this diet."

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