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We need to put the bite on produce

Published Oct. 13, 2005

Question: Is it true that most of us don't eat enough fruit and vegetables? And what's enough? Answer: Most of us eat too many of the wrong things or too few of the right ones, and sometimes both. But as a nation we are improving. Since 1963, for example, per capita consumption of butter, animal fats and oils is down about 40 percent, egg consumption is down almost 20 percent, and the intake of vegetable fats and oils is up over 60 percent.

Still, we don't spend enough time in the produce department. Not only do most Americans tend to avoid fruit and vegetables; many eat hardly any at all. Data from a huge study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics says that only 1 in 10 adults meets recommended daily fruit and vegetable allowances.

What's enough? Three to five servings of vegetables and two to three servings of fruit a day is what's recommended. One serving of vegetables is about one-half cup, cooked or raw. One serving of fruit is an average piece of whole fruit. And one serving of juice is six ounces. The idea is to eat a variety of green, red, yellow and orange produce.

Eating right is worth the effort. Reducing fat consumption has played an important role in the decline of the nation's heart disease death rate, from 1-million 25 years ago to about 500,000 a year today, even with a growing and aging population. And it is believed that the rich source of vitamins, minerals and fiber in vegetables and fruits can go a long way toward reducing the risk of certain cancers and other diseases.

Cholesterol reduction

Question: My last blood work showed that my LDL cholesterol was still high, even though I walk every day, watch what I eat, and try to keep my fat intake low. What else can I do?

Answer: High LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol levels are directly related to heart disease, as you apparently know. Treatment involves diet therapy, and sometimes drug therapy, to decrease elevated LDL cholesterol. And exercise is now being recommended to increase HDL cholesterol.

The National Cholesterol Education Programs recommends a two-step diet program to lower LDL cholesterol that you may want to try. In step one you reduce the amount of fat you eat to 30 percent or less of your daily calories. Of this amount, 10 percent or less should be saturated (animal) fat, and 10 percent or less should be polyunsaturated fat. The remainder should be monounsaturated fat. Also, you should consume no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol a day.

If this doesn't work, move on to step two. That is, limit your saturated fat intake even further, to 7 percent or less of your total fat, and decrease your cholesterol intake to 130 milligrams per day.

If you are still unable to achieve recommended LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe drug therapy. Cholestyramine, nicotinic acid, gemfibrozil and other drugs have been effective for some people.

Also, keep exercising regularly to increase your HDL cholesterol. Some believe that raising the HDL cholesterol is at least as important as lowering LDL cholesterol.