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Panel Recommends More Fruits And Vegetables, Less Meat And Sugar


New diet advice is on its way. A panel of top nutrition experts appointed by the federal government has released its report on what Americans should be eating. And one thing that will surprise no one is advice to consume less red meat and cut back on sugar. The panel, though, has also weighed in on cholesterol and caffeine. NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us now to talk more about that. Good morning.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: All right, let's start with the first meal of the day - appropriately for MORNING EDITION - breakfast.

AUBREY: That's right - all right, breakfast.

MONTAGNE: I see you've got your coffee cup there.

AUBREY: That's right.

MONTAGNE: Look, if we're supposed to be consuming less sugar, that would be doughnuts and Danishes. We know that's not an ideal breakfast, but what might be a healthy breakfast?

AUBREY: Well, you mentioned the coffee. Coffee may be a good way to go if it agrees with you. The panel has concluded that moderate amounts of coffee are actually good for you. They point to evidence that a daily coffee habit may help protect against Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Now, I should point out that this advice is for adults, not children. And another part of a healthy breakfast may be an egg. The committee is recommending that current limits on dietary cholesterol be dropped. That news was hinted at a few days ago. The committee says for most people an egg a day does not raise the amount of unhealthy cholesterol in your blood, nor does it raise the risk of heart disease. So their conclusion here really represents an evolution in thinking about dietary cholesterol.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk more broadly. What is the panel's main message?

AUBREY: Well, if you talk to the experts on the committee what they are really emphasizing is an overall pattern of eating that's more plant-based. So in addition to what we always hear about more fruits and vegetables, the experts are saying add in more plant-based whole grains and proteins, such as legumes and nuts. If we as a nation cut back on red and processed meats, the panel concludes, that's not only better for our health, but it may also be better for the planet - more sustainable.

MONTAGNE: And, Allison, the committee also weighed in, you know, as we just mentioned, on sugar - added sugar - in our diets, things like sugary drinks and soda. And what did they conclude?

AUBREY: Well, the message on sugar is to consume a lot less of it. In fact, they're recommending that we limit added sugars to no more than 10 percent of our daily calories. So, you know, to put that into perspective, that's about one soda per day. It also means watching out for all of the hidden sugars added to processed foods, so salad dressings, condiments, lots of snack foods because those really add up quickly. And I'd say the bottom line is that right now many Americans are consuming two to three times more than what is considered healthy. And it's not just bad for our waistlines. It's increasing the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

MONTAGNE: What then now? I mean, are we likely to see the food industry respond to these new guidelines?

AUBREY: Well, what happens now is a 45-day public comment period. Then the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services will review the comments, and by the end of the year they will update the dietary guidelines. So as to how the food industry will respond - you know, you might expect to see some manufacturers begin trimming the amounts of added sugar to, say, yogurts or cereals. You know, they'll look at these recommendations, as well as all of the new science, and it will likely nudge them to make some changes.

MONTAGNE: Allison, thank you.

AUBREY: Thank you very much, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Allison Aubrey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.