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posted: 9/19/2012 6:20 AM

Ask the Nutritionist: Americans not over-achievers when it comes to dietary recommendations

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Q. How are Americans doing at meeting current dietary recommendations?

A. Studies show we are still not consuming nutrient-rich plant foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans in amounts that support good health (and a healthy weight). Those foods are being pushed out because we overdo on foods high in empty calories from SoFAS (aka solid fats and added sugars) and alcohol.

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The recommendation is that total calories from SoFAS provide no more than 5 to 15 percent of our calories. Analysis of the most recent survey of Americans' eating habits shows U.S. men and women consume more than three times the amount of empty calories recommended as upper limits.

About one-third of these empty calories come from snacks. Although our total grain consumption meets or exceeds recommended amounts, we eat too many refined grains and get only 15 percent of even the minimum of at least three servings of whole grains daily. Less than five percent of Americans get recommended amounts of dietary fiber from foods, 14 grams per 1000 calories.

Another area where don't meet the dietary recommendations is sodium: Half of Americans are advised to limit sodium to no more than 1500 milligrams (mg) per day because they have or are at increased risk of high blood pressure, but less than two percent do so. Even for those advised to aim for a more lenient 2300 mg of sodium per day limit, less than 12 percent meet the target.

Q. Does selenium reduce risk of prostate cancer? How much do we need, and what foods supply it?

A. Selenium is a mineral and is one of many antioxidants in our food that may help lower risk of prostate and other cancers, however it's important not to overdo.

The AICR/WCRF expert report and its updates found that foods containing selenium help lower risk for prostate cancer. In addition, a recent analysis of all related studies confirms that higher body levels of selenium are linked with lower risk of prostate cancer (especially the aggressive form) but only up to a point. And in a study where men took supplements of 200 mcg daily, only those who started with low blood levels of selenium had reduced prostate cancer risk.

Those with medium or higher levels did not. The recommended Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for selenium is 55 micrograms (mcg) for men and women and in the United States, almost everyone gets well over the recommended intake.

Seafood, meat and grains are the major dietary sources. You get 35 to 75 mcg in a 3-ounce portion of fish, 23-30 mcg in a 3-ounce portion of poultry or meat, and 6-19 mcg in cup of pasta or rice. Vegetables and fruits mostly supply only small amounts, except for the 9 to 18 mcg in a cup of cooked mushrooms. For that matter, you can get the entire RDA in one Brazil nut.

To avoid nerve damage, hair loss and digestive disturbances, the maximum total selenium from food and supplements considered safe is 400 mcg per day. Selenium intakes too low and too high both pose overall cancer risk.

• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research.

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