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Government guidelines okay vegetarian diet.

Vegetarians take heart: The federal government finds that meatless diets can satisfy the requirements of its newly updated "Dietary Guidelines for Americans."

This week, officials of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) tacitly endorsed vegetarian diets in the guidelines for the first time. They also emphasized the importance of exercise in combination with a healthful diet in maintaining weight, and they eliminated any allowance for middle-aged spread.

"These guidelines are the gold standard for nutrition and health," says HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala. She notes that because 300,000 people in the United States die each year as a result of poor diet, "we are sending the message loud and clear: Diet and exercise are twin engines that will carry you on the road to a longer, healthier life."

Every 5 years since 1980, the two agencies have created and published guidelines based on the recommendations of an advisory committee. The 1995 update, released Jan. 2, still relies on the food pyramid that instructs people to base their diets on breads and cereals, fruits, and vegetables and to limit fats, salt, and sweets. It also suggests that people restrict daily fat intake to no more than 30 percent of their daily calories.

The guidelines now confirm that vegetarian diets can satisfy those requirements. However, they also note that vegetarians should be sure to get enough zinc, iron, and B vitamins, either in their diets or via supplements.

The guidelines emphasize that adults should not allow their weight to creep up with age, and they advise that adults get 30 minutes of moderate exercise such as gardening, housework, or walking every day.

"These guidelines are an example of good government," says USDA Secretary Dan Glickman. "They will help consumers make informed food choices."

David B. Wasser of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group that advocates vegetarian diets, says that the guidelines "aren't everything that we hoped for" but notes that "for the first time, an agency which historically has been very biased toward the meat industry has acknowledged that vegetarian diets are healthful."

Although Michael F. Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest also appreciates that acknowledgment, he maintains that the guidelines "fail to recommend the best possible diet," which would be much lower in salt and fat.
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Title Annotation:Science News of the Week; Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services endorse vegetarian diets in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Author:Seachrist, Lisa
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 6, 1996
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