Food Pyramid To Be Revised For The First Time in 5 Years

Dec 13, 2010
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Back in 2005 Greek Yogurt wasn’t in the dairy case and Acai was simply a rare Amazon berry; this was also the last time that the U.S. revised its dietary guidelines for Americans and the visual food pyramid, called MyPyramid, that accompanies them.

Five years is a long time, especially if we are talking about nutrition research. New studies make headlines each day and our appetites are increasing for simple, reliable guidance.

This month the federal Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services will release the 2010 dietary guidelines. These guidelines directly impact the eating habits of one in every four Americans whose meals are subsidized by federal programs. The precise timing of the release this month is unknown, according to John Webster, a spokesman for the USDA.

The major question here is whether or not the new guidelines will impact the obesity epidemic that is increasing ever so quickly in our country. Decisions about what to eat are generally made at the supermarket, not while reading federal guidelines. “What we need to do is put more effort into figuring out how to engage people who don’t use nutrition as a major deciding point when buying food,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “We really need to learn more about consumer behavior.’’ Some experts wonder if more nutrition information helps or confuses shoppers.

It is arguable that the guidance needs to be much clearer, more like the wildly popular “Eat This, Not That!,’’ a magazine column, which was then reworked into a book and an iPhone app, that made its mark by telling readers which fast food was nutritionally better than others. Dr. David L. Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center and an associate professor at the university’s School of Medicine, is an advocate for more specific guidance. For example, 45 to 65 percent of daily calories should come from foods that contain carbohydrates. But “lollipops and lentils are both carbs,’’ Katz says. And while the current federal recommendations do stress eating carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, he adds, “We need to do a better job of specifically defining highly recommended foods.’’

While no one is talking about the final 2010 recommendations before their release, a June advisory report, open for public comment, gives some clues. Cohen of UMass Amherst expects the final guidelines to place even greater emphasis on physical activity and continue to recommend that people include more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, foods with Omega-3 fatty acids, and a suggestion to eat three servings of low-calorie dairy products a day (some argue that calcium supplements should be used in place of the third serving).

Diligent shoppers aren’t likely to gain much new perspective from a revamped pyramid, Willett says. “It is helpful in offering a general gestalt about healthy eating,’’ he says. “But we need something more detailed that tells us how healthy this particular food is.’’ (Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t that what a food label is for?)

So the question stands, next time you’re in the grocery store are you going to be thinking about federal health guidelines? Depending on your answer can lead us to another important question, are these guidelines really that helpful to the general public?


Author: Jennifer Green

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