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The Lean Plate Club: Sally Squires

Overfed, Undernourished

By Sally Squires
Tuesday, September 21, 2004; Page HE01

A new federal report finds that much of the population -- which is overweight and overfed -- often falls short in consuming essential nutrients. In short, Americans are eating too much of the wrong stuff.

That's one of the conclusions of the Dietary Guidelines Scientific Advisory Committee, which issued its report in August. Written by a group of 13 experts from academia, the report notes that more than half of adults and children fail to consume enough calcium, vitamin E, fiber, magnesium and potassium. Intake is low enough to be "of concern," the committee reported, noting that most adults also fall short in consumption of vitamins A and C.

That Americans could be so overfed and still be short of key nutrients "surprised me," said the committee's chairwoman, Janet King, senior scientist at the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute in California. "It's appalling that here in this land of plenty, with access to a wide variety of foods, that we still have a significant proportion of the population selecting foods that lead to inadequate intakes of critical nutrients."

The committee found, for example, that:

• Eighty percent of children, 86 percent of men and 93 percent of women don't get enough vitamin E. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) sets an average recommended daily intake of 15 milligrams for adults -- about the amount found in an ounce of almonds and a couple tablespoons of safflower oil. Kids need six to 11 milligrams. This vitamin is key for healthy immune function.

• About two-thirds of adults fall short on magnesium. This mineral helps maintain healthy metabolism. Men need 400 to 420 milligrams per day (men over 30 needing the higher amount). That's equal to about a cup of ready-to-eat bran cereal, two cups of spinach salad and a half-cup of soy nuts. Women require 310 to 320 milligrams. Pregnant women require 350 to 360 milligrams, depending on their age.

• Slightly more than half of adults underconsume vitamin A, which helps keep immune function intact and is important for vision. Men need 900 micrograms (or 3,000 I.U.) Women require 700 micrograms (2,333 I.U.). Eating a medium baked sweet potato or a half-cup of carrots meets the requirements for most adults.

• About half of adults don't get enough vitamin C, which also helps bolster the immune system. Men need 90 milligrams daily; women 75 milligrams. A half-cup of strawberries and six ounces of V8 juice pretty much cover the bases for both. (Children require 25 to 75 milligrams per day.)

• Roughly 40 percent of men and slightly more than half of women fail to get enough calcium, a mineral key for strong, healthy bones and a host of other important bodily functions. Kids and teens ages 9 to 13 years need 1,300 milligrams daily -- about the amount found in two cups of plain, nonfat yogurt and a cup of skim milk. Adults aged 19 to 50 need 1,000 milligrams daily. Those 51 and older need 1,200 milligrams daily.

• Recommendations are to consume 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day, with women at the lower end, men at the upper. Both men and women fall far short, with men consuming about 18 to 19 grams per day; women, about 13. Fiber is important for keeping things "regular" and for reducing the risk of heart disease. Eating a cup of bran cereal plus a cup of bean soup will meet the fiber requirements for most people.

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© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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