Last week, 13 leading nutrition and physical activity experts spent three days digesting the latest scientific findings and then debating, sometimes quite heatedly, the best eating and exercise messages for your consumption.

Known as the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, this group voted on more than two dozen scientific conclusions that will likely form the basis of the next U.S. Dietary Guidelines and may lead to renovation or redesign of that well-known icon, the Food Guide Pyramid. The next guidelines are slated for release in January.

So much work remained last week that the committee scheduled another meeting for August. Here's a sampling of what members have agreed upon so far and how it may shape your daily life:

Monitor your weight. It's the best way to know if you're reaching or maintaining a healthy weight and to gauge how many calories you need daily and to calculate a new category of "discretionary" calories for occasional splurges.

Choose a variety of foods. That's how to meet recommended levels of health-promoting vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients that most Americans don't reach, the committee found. The typical person should be eating more fruit and vegetables, more low-fat and nonfat milk and milk products (about three cups per day), about three servings per day of whole grains and a lot less high-calorie, high-fat foods.

Go beyond potatoes. Most Americans need more dark-green vegetables (spinach, lettuce, green beans); orange-colored produce (orange peppers, cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potatoes, oranges); and tomatoes, onions and beans. For creative ways to fit seven to nine servings into your daily regimen, log on to the National Cancer Institute's Five-A-Day program,

Move more throughout the day. Being physically active -- taking the stairs, walking to errands, raking the yard -- helps counteract the negative effects of the sedentary lives most Americans lead. Regular physical activity can help people achieve a healthy weight and reduce the risk for chronic disease.

How much is enough? For adults, 30 minutes of at least moderate activity, such as brisk walking, on most days, the committee said. (For kids, 60 minutes.) For adults who want to avoid weight gain -- or maintain the weight they have lost -- 60 to 90 minutes per day.

In addition, vigorous physical activity -- the kind that gets hearts beating fast, such as singles tennis, climbing stairs and step aerobics workouts -- provides greater health benefits and burns calories more rapidly. The committee concluded that it should be performed at least 20 minutes on three or more days per week. And make walking or other weight-bearing activity part of the regimen to help preserve bone.

Pump iron. Weight training boosts strength, endurance and maintains or increases muscle mass, the committee found. Health benefits are well documented for everyone from teens to older adults who do eight to 10 resistance exercises two or more days per week.

Go easy on sweetened food and beverages. Added sugar proved the most contentious issue at the meetings. The discussion was so heated that it was tabled for a day so that members could review the scientific literature. Even then, experts who read the same studies drew different conclusions. Bottom line: Food and drink with added sugar is often lower in healthy nutrients and higher in calories, but does it fuel the obesity epidemic? The committee members couldn't agree. But they noted that sugared beverages, such as soft drinks, "are not as well regulated" by the body as calories in the solid form, meaning that you may consume more than you realize without feeling full. Find more results in today's Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter.

-- Sally Squires

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