WASHINGTON Americans need to cut salt and fat and eat more fruits and vegetables, the Obama administration said in its latest set of dietary guidelines released on Monday.
The new dietary guidelines also advise cutting out sugary drinks and drinking water instead, and eating less overall.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack released the guidelines, saying Americans are too fat. More than one-third of children and two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese.
"The bottom line is that most Americans need to trim our waistlines to reduce the risk of developing diet-related chronic disease," Vilsack said.
The guidelines are available to consumers but are primarily used as the basis of nutrition education programs, school meals and Meals on Wheels for seniors, and to inform advice provided by doctors and nurses, said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The Agriculture Department earlier this month issued a proposed rule that would require school lunch and breakfast programs to offer more leafy green and orange vegetables, limit starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn to one cup per week, and gradually reduce the amount of sodium in meals.
Jean Daniel of the Food and Nutrition Service said the rule was developed separately from the dietary guidelines but that the two are mostly in sync. She said the changes likely will not take effect until the 2012-13 school year.
Consumer groups said the guidelines are more understandable this time around and praised the administration for suggesting specific food choices people should change.
"It's important to have guidelines that will help us deal with that issue of obesity," Vilsack said.
The guidelines include 23 key recommendations for the general public and six for specific groups such as pregnant women. General recommendations include avoiding oversized portions and balancing calorie reduction with exercise.
Some of the tips:
* Enjoy your food but eat less.
* Avoid oversized portions.
* Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
* Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk.
* Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals and choose the foods with lower numbers.
* Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the pro-vegetarian Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine, said this report is the boldest yet in addressing salt intake -- it tells about half the U.S. population to eat less than 1,500 mg per day -- and promoting vegetarian diets.
But he said the guidelines fall short by suggesting people reduce cholesterol and saturated fat instead of warning them away from foods that contain them.
Representatives of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the American Meat Institute and other groups issued statements praising the guidelines for including meat and poultry as components of a balanced diet.
Other food makers and sellers -- including grocers and food and drink makers, who last week announced a new system of displaying nutrition information -- issued statements in support of the new guidelines.
The Agriculture Department guidelines are available here
(Reporting by Emily Stephenson and Lisa Baertlein; Editing by Maggie Fox, Jackie Frank and Bill Trott)