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Cholesterol isn't as bad as we used to think it was, but we still shouldn't eat too much meat and sugar. Those are some highlights from a new report out today on what Americans should be eating. They come from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. As NPR's Allison Aubrey reports, the findings represent an evolution in thinking.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: You may feel as if you hear diet advice all the time, but the reason the report out today is a big deal is that it represents the consensus of some of the nation's top nutrition scientists. And their conclusion is that in order to promote good health, and the health of the planet, Americans should move towards a pattern of eating that is more plant-based and one that contains less meat. Alice Lichtenstein of Tufts University is vice chair of the panel.
ALICE LICHTENSTEIN: The message, in terms of red and processed meat, is that intake should be lowered. It's not that meat needs to be eliminated from the diet, just reduced.
AUBREY: Lichtenstein says the optimal pattern of eating is one that includes a broad array of foods - from fruits and vegetables to whole grains, as well as nuts, beans, fish and low-fat dairy. Now, another significant change coming from the panel's recommendation has to do with dietary cholesterol. For a long time, Americans have been told to limit it, but as was hinted at last week, this committee has advised that it's time to drop those limits. Here's Alice Lichtenstein again.
LICHTENSTEIN: The committee found that there really wasn't strong evidence to continue to restrict cholesterol intake.
AUBREY: It's been known for a while that, for instance, one egg per day does not increase the risk of heart disease, at least in healthy people. And Lichtenstein says it's become clear that there's not a strong link between the amount of cholesterol in the food we eat and how much bad cholesterol ends up in our bloodstream, where it can clog our arteries. Physician Ralph Vicari, who's a cardiologist in Florida, says people with high cholesterol levels in their blood should still be concerned.
RALPH VICARI: Absolutely. You know, if - I think it's important that people understand their actual levels - bad cholesterol levels, or LDL.
AUBREY: Because people who are prone to high cholesterol, or have other risk factors for heart disease, may be advised by their doctors to continue limiting cholesterol-rich foods and perhaps take medicine. So an egg a day - no big deal, but sugar, the committee concludes, is a big problem. They recommend that Americans cut way back and get no more than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugars. To put that in perspective, that means about one sugar-sweetened drink a day. Physician Robert Lustig, of UC San Francisco - who was not on the panel - says the evidence to support this move has been accumulating.
ROBERT LUSTIG: Added sugar is bad for us.
AUBREY: Too much of it not only packs on calories but also contributes to the risk of lifestyle diseases, such as...
LUSTIG: Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
AUBREY: The committee concludes that water is the preferred beverage of choice. Now what happens next is that the federal government will take these recommendations and write its version of the guidelines, which are due out by the end of the year. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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