Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New Food Guide Pyramid Won't Be A Pyramid

The Food Guide Pyramid is changing again. This Thursday, the USDA will announce the new icon that is intended to help guide Americans towards making healthy food choices. It's been said that it won't be a pyramid this time.

Let's take a moment to reflect on the most recent icons....

Dodadodaloo, dodadodaloo (with finger waving, a la Wayne's World)...

Remember this one? (Sorry it's a little blurry)

This guide featured the food groups and made it clear which ones were to be the foundation of our diet. Of course, Atkins didn't agree, but that's a whole other matter. My main issue with this guide is that it isn't clear to most people how many servings they should be eating from each group. For instance, the bread & cereal group lists 6-11 servings daily. You might think this means you should eat 6 to 11 servings from this group every day, depending on the day. Sometimes you might eat only 6 and sometimes you might eat 11. But really it meant that some people should be aiming for 6 servings, and others get to have 11. For instance, I'm a small female, so I don't need (and shouldn't eat as many) servings as my taller husband. I think this led people to eat more than they should have, thinking it was not only OK, but that it was recommended to do so. (Nevermind the issue of determining what a serving size is anyway.)

This pyramid spawned several versions to illustrate alternative diets to the one recommended by the USDA.

There was the Okinawa pyramid...

This one, based on the traditional diet of the Okinawans (featured in Karate Kid II), emphasized vegetables, flavanoid foods, omega-3 foods and suggested only eating meat and eggs a few times a week. For more on this pyramid and eating style, check out the book. The Okinawans and their eating habits are pretty interesting.

There is also a vegan pyramid....

And the Mayo Clinic even devised their own pyramid, which highlighted exercise and emphasized fruits and vegetables as the foundation of the diet.

The most current pyramid was intended to be more personalized.

It doesn't have recommended servings on the food categories. Instead, individuals are supposed to go online and put in their specific information to create their own personal pyramid. I think this is a great idea in many regards. It makes it more interactive and current. It makes it more specific and personal. It makes it more fun. However, for it to work, you have to have a computer and internet access.

The overall structure stays the same for everyone. And I think it's a pretty neat one. It shows that even within the food groups there are some foods that should be eaten sparingly, while others can be eaten a little more freely (hence the wider base and skinner top for each food group pie piece.) I also recently heard it said that the exercising person on the side shows that if you eat more food (down at the base of the pyramid), you should exercise more. But if you don't eat as much (top of the pyramid), you don't have to exercise as much to have calorice balance. I don't know of this was the intention, but it does make a good point.

I think each pyramid / guide has it's advantages and disadvantages. I've heard lots of complaints about them from nutrionists and regular people alike.

But consider the task at hand. How would you summarize all of the current research for nutritional recommendations and make it into an accessible, simple icon that would be clear and easy to use and yet also individualized for all Americans? And that's if we don't even consider all of the politics involved.

I certainly don't want that task!

I'm interested to see what they've come up with now. And as soon as I know, I will share it with you.

1 comment:

  1. Random... do you know of any classes available to learn about kid nutrition? It's not my personality to just wing it.