Americans continue to eat too much sugar and too many refined grains while consuming too few vegetables, fruits and whole grains, according to a U.S. government panel charged with producing new dietary guidelines. Salt and saturated fat are also over consumed.

The committee, which finished and posted its nutrition recommendations Feb. 20, also said that Americans are not getting enough calcium, vitamin D, fiber, and potassium in their diets. Adolescent and premenopausal females are also deficient in iron.

Federal dietary guidelines are revised every five years and compiled jointly by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. The nutrition recommendations will go through a period of public comment through April 8 including public meetings in March. Once comments are closed, the federal government will release new nutrition guidelines, which are the basis of federal food and nutrition policy and education initiatives. The guidelines are also a call to arms for public health officials concerned about rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions linked to nutrition.

According to the recommendations, "No matter where the food is obtained, the diet quality of the U.S. population does not meet recommendations for vegetables, fruit, dairy, or whole grains, and exceeds recommendations, leading to overconsumption, for the nutrients sodium and saturated fat and the food components refined grains, solid fats, and added sugars."

The nutritional recommendations are similar to past guidelines with one glaring exception: Consumption of dietary cholesterol, the kind of cholesterol present in lobster and eggs, is no longer an area of concern, according to the committee.

The committee defined a healthy diet as:• higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains;• lower in red and processed meat;• and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.

The committee also reaffirmed alcohol advice of the 2010 guidelines: “Moderate alcohol intake can be a component of a healthy dietary pattern.” Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. But the committee advised against adding alcohol to a diet on the basis of any potential health benefits.

The committee’s recommendations for sodium (less than 2,300 mg per day for adults) and saturated fat (less than 10 percent of total calories) remain the same. For added sugars, the committee set a target range of 10 percent of total calories. Previous guidelines did not set a target.

The proposed federal nutritional guidelines match up with Cooking Light’s own nutritional values. Our recipes, for example, encourage people to put whole grains, vegetables, and fruits in the middle of their plate.