New food pyramid hard to digest / Updating summary requires web access for personal plan

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After four years of work and $ 2.4 million in spending, the US government on Tuesday ripped off the secret of its new symbol for healthy eating.

Replacing the beloved but ignored food pyramid is … a new pyramid, an overturned version of the old one, with no mention of actual food. A major new design feature is a sporty silhouette that climbs steep steps down the side of the pyramid, with the slogan: “Steps to a Healthier You.”

Unlike the old pyramid, which was designed to represent government nutrition advice in one bite, this version requires an interactive website to provide information.


“The symbol is meant to raise awareness, but the education is in the accompanying material,” said US Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, showing the pyramid in Washington, DC

High interest in the new pyramid on Tuesday all but crippled www.mypyramid.gov, the website at the heart of the government’s new food referral system. The pyramid is designed to draw consumers to the site, which offers personalized eating plans.

The food industry has responded enthusiastically, promising to put the new symbol on product labels as soon as possible. It was not immediately clear what exact products could carry the symbol, but Eric Hentges, head of nutrition policy and promotion at the USDA, said: “We expect the food industry to patrol itself. herself”.

Nutritionists offered mixed opinions on the new pyramid. Some applauded the customization of the new website, while others thought the new, highly abstract pyramid missed an opportunity to provide direct advice on what –

and what’s not – to eat.

The new symbol was designed to reflect the government’s latest advice on healthy eating, compiled in the 2005 Diet Guidelines for Americans, released in January. These are the most complicated guidelines yet, adding an exercise component and setting calorie levels for the first time for people of different ages. The guidelines made 23 recommendations, with 18 more for children, the elderly and other groups.

The inability to lump all of these recommendations into one symbol is why the new pyramid is conceptual rather than specific, Hentges said.

It is also the point which aroused the most immediate criticisms.

The ancient pyramid had horizontal sections that visually indicated to people what to eat: the grains had a wide band at the bottom, which meant they ate a lot; the fats and sugar have been squeezed into the little tip, which means eat little.

The new pyramid features vertical bands of varying widths and colors starting at the tip and widening at the base. The idea is that each strip represents a different food group, and the width tells people how much of each group to eat. But, without going to the website, there are no words to tell consumers that the wide orange stripe stands for grains, while the thin yellow stripe stands for oils.

There is also a lack of information to differentiate healthy whole grain cereals from sugary snacks, or the more beneficial olive oil from harmful saturated fats.

The figure climbing the stairs promotes exercise and is key to the concept of government: Take the first steps to good health.

The symbol is intended to be of interest to consumers at www.mypyramid.gov, where they can enter their age, gender, and exercise level and get a diet that meets their needs – one of 12 diet plans or pyramids. .

Another feature allows people to track what they’re eating and show them where they’re going nuts, nutritionally.

Johanns said the pyramid expresses “moderation – you can eat a lot of different foods, but in moderation. Then exercise – even a small amount will make a difference. The key is to start. And go. on the website. It’s exceptional. “

Critics, however, pointed out that these messages were entirely abstract.

Noting the rainbow colors and the spandex clad figure, food consultant Clark Wolfe said the pyramid makes it seem like “all you need to do to be healthy in America is to be healthy. ‘being gay and exercising “.

More seriously, Marion Nestlé, professor of nutrition at New York University, took a look at the new pyramid and asked, “Where’s the food?

“There is no ‘eat less’ message here,” Nestlé said. “There is nothing about soda or snacks or how many times you should eat.”

USDA officials said if people tracked their diets at www.mypyramid.gov, they would eat better and less. But Nestlé said poor and uneducated people are both more likely to be overweight and not have access to a computer.

“I would say this is a clear victory for the food industry,” Nestlé said. “It’s a clear victory for personal responsibility. You have to know a lot for this thing to work for you.”

At UC Berkeley, nutritionist Joanne Ikeda disagreed. Having seen many government nutrition plans come and go, she was surprised to find the new plan turned her on.

“I think it’s the USDA that is entering the 21st century,” Ikeda said. “I think the hook is the personalization, and it hasn’t been there in the past.” She has discovered that her own students are intensely involved when they follow their own eating habits in her classroom.

The industry is eager to get started. The Grocery Manufacturers of America announced plans for new labels and products to fit the pyramid before it was even announced.

“It will be a benchmark,” said Alison Kretser, GMA nutritionist and policy director.

Ultimately, consumers will decide. Of the 28 Chronicle Two Cents readers who gave their opinion on the possibility that the new pyramid would change their eating habits, only two said maybe; the rest said no.

“If consumers haven’t changed their diet to date, nothing from the government will make a difference,” wrote Susan Jackson of the Sunset District of San Francisco in a representative email. “Wake up and smell the tomatoes.”


Anatomy of the pyramid

Colors represent food groups and oils, and band widths provide a general guide to serving sizes

Cereals (orange)

Green vegetables)

Red fruits)

Oils (yellow)

Milk (blue)

Meat and beans (purple)

The figure represents the importance of daily physical activity

Source: Ministry of Agriculture


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