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As reported yesterday in an MNB special alert, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled its new nutrition pyramid – a new, vertically striped edition that gives specific advice about how much and what kinds of foods the average person should each day.

The new pyramid has six vertical strips, each one representing various food groups. The orange stripe represents grains, with the recommendation that people should “eat at least three ounces of whole grain bread, cereal, crackers, rice, or pasta every day,” with half of all grains consumed recommended to be whole grains. Green is for veggies, suggesting 2.5 cups of dark green and orange vegetables a day. Red is for fruit, suggesting two cups of fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruit a day – but easy on the fruit juice. Blue is for three cups a day of dairy (or an alternative source of calcium) – low-fat or skim, please. The thin purple stripe is for meats and beans – low fat or lean, and always baked, broiled or grilled. And the really, really thin yellow stripe is for oils, with the recommendation that “most of your fat sources come from fish, nuts and vegetable oils,” and that consumers “limit solid fats like butter, stick margarine, shortening and lard.”

Details are available at:

The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) seemed pleased with the new pyramid.

“This is great,” said Kathy Means, Vice President of Government Relations for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), in a prepared statement. “In our comments to USDA, we stressed that produce had to be featured prominently in any dietary guidance graphic, and we’re thrilled to see that happen. It’s important that we use the version of the graphic that includes the depiction of fruits and vegetables in addition to the color bands so that consumers quickly grasp what they’re supposed to do. The graphic without the food depictions is less clear about the actions consumers should take.”

And, Means said, “We’re certainly hopeful that the government will use it extensive communications power to get the word out and industry can do its part, too. This is a great tool that highlights our industry’s products and has the science-based credibility of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Now we need to translate awareness and education into behavior for the health of the country and the health of our industry.”

Meanwhile, Ahold-owned Giant Food announced plans to help consumers put the pyramid’s tenets into practice.

"This wonderful interactive tool will help consumers understand the best choices within each food group. It is our goal to make it easy to find these choices at the supermarket," said Odonna Mathews, Vice President of Consumer Affairs at Giant Food. Each month Giant will focus on a key message of MyPyramid, communicating through the consumer column in the Giant ad circular, in-store radio, the website and in-store signing.

Giant will also promote its school tours and new tour activity booklet for grades K-3 beginning in August. The tours and activity booklet will highlight the new MyPyramid. Teachers, Scout leaders and other groups for children ages 5-8 will want to take advantage of this opportunity to show children how to make healthful food selections.

MNB also got a great email from Bobbie Randall, a registered dietician at Ohio’s Buehlers Fresh Foods Markets, which put the pyramid into perspective:

“The weight of the world has been lifted off the shoulders of nutrition professionals. For years they have been trying to convince people that a serving is not in the eye of the beholder.

“The one-size-fits-all Food Guide Pyramid has been replaced with a new system of information to help consumers understand how to put nutrition recommendations into action. My Pyramid introduced on April 19, 2005 by the Department of Agriculture has taken the guesswork out serving sizes.

“It is about time. After watching the film Super Size Me, many people finally got the picture that a serving is not just what someone else deems enough to eat. The new guideline has put a number on the amount, an image to the imaginary, and a size to the ambiguous term: enough.

“The new eating guideline, My Pyramid, is still in the shape of a triangle but it has gone 3-D. Instead of the interior lines stretching across horizontally, the recommendations are represented on colorful lines that reach toward the peak. The stair-climbing figure scaling the side of the structure adds to the fluid movement of the vertical lines.

“The new message of this dining guideline is that good health involves more than just food choices; movement matters too. The design may seem to be busy but that is just the point. Whether it means that a person may be moved to learn more about the green, red, blue, yellow and purple stripes or the black and white stick figure, the message is to move.

“The previous pyramid concept was blamed for the rise in the obesity epidemic in America. The public complained that the bottom of the pyramid that recommended 6-11 grain servings a day contributed to the growing girth of the nation…The new guide gives the consumer more choices to tailor their diet to their lifestyle.

“Serving sizes are now spelled out. To nutrition professionals, 9 servings of fruits and vegetables are the new recommendations. To the eating public, that is translated into eating 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables a day. This will take the guesswork out of just how much is a serving.

“Eating 3 ounces of whole-grain foods a day means consuming 3 pieces of whole wheat bread that weighs 1 ounce apiece or other choices. Nutrition professionals will gladly remind the public that a .5 cup serving of whole grain rice or a cereal product usually weighs approximately 1 ounce. That is language that the general public can finally understand.

“America has been dubbed, "The Land of Fad Diets." Name the day of the week and a new fad diet will emerge. The recent resurrection of the low carbohydrate, high protein diet was an example of how Americans are starving for nutrition information. Research has proven that less than 10% of the folks who lost weight on the Atkins Diet are still following the diet and have kept the weight off.

“Critics of the new My Pyramid system of nutrition education state that the symbol does not educate the public. They claim that the graphic excludes the information needed to steer this country to svelte or save the nation from drowning in a fast food menu.

“As the saying goes, the proof will be in the pudding as long as only ? cup is served. The challenge of the new dining guidance system will be to educate the public on the new recommendations of My Pyramid as well as The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005 published in January, 2005.

“The goal of My Pyramid is to help diners put healthy choices into action. This may mean actually adding 30 minutes of physical activity into a day or increasing the amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy into the daily menu.

“Since Americans are fad crazy consider it a fad that should not fade away. It has taken the health community years to develop this new symbol that depicts movement and positive food choices. Simple lines and a simple message are needed in a culture that prides itself on variety.

“The ambiguity of the serving size has been lifted. The word 'exercise' has been defined. My Pyramid has the potential of becoming My Fadamid.

“Without specific numbers actually listed on the pyramid, the consumer can insert their own numbers onto the colorful ribbons of food choices according to the 12 available caloric guidelines. The generic stick figure may be walking the perimeter of the ancient shape but people can define the activity according to their individual life style.

“This new symbol frees the nutrition professional from preaching in hopes of teaching. It is something that Americans crave, an educational tool with choice.

“Learn the basic guidelines and the message spells out improved health and wellness. My Fadamid is similar to the transportation guidelines in this country. Speed limits and traffic rules govern the highways. Make a wrong turn and you may get lost in a traffic jam similar to a clogged artery or a blood stream full of glucose molecules. Follow a system that allows nutrition and activity to lead to a healthy path and the road to wellness does not turn into gridlock or morbid obesity.

“Turning My Pyramid into a personal My Fadamid makes dining individual. Following the appropriate serving sizes and caloric requirements within a personalized plan can make a body feel special. Moving to the beat of your own drummer while scaling the stairs of the triangular shape takes on a life of its own. Seizing and maintaining control is an American trait that is cherished. Value the choices that My Pyramid offers. Nutrition professionals are poised to propel America toward more dieting freedom. Fad diets are alive and well within My Pyramid.”

Not everyone was impressed, however.

The Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) released a statement that said, in part:

Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) today expressed disappointment in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new healthy eating education program MyPyramid. Noting a broad-scale effort is needed to change America’s food environment, the foundation unveiled a national action plan calling on institutions and industries to help make the healthy choice the easy choice.

“MyPyramid misses the mark for most Americans, replacing an American icon with an oversimplified, uncommunicative visual that leaves out real guidance for a nation hungry for direction,” said PBH President Elizabeth Pivonka. “Most importantly, it fails to stress the importance of increasing fruit and vegetable intake for better health and to control weight. In the process, it fails Americans’ public health.”

“Furthermore, education alone will not build a healthier nation. To reverse the obesity epidemic and its health crisis, and to close the gap in important nutrients and phytochemicals in the American diet, we need an environment where healthy food choices are encouraged and convenient, said Pivonka. “That is PBH’s objective in today unveiling our own national action plan.”

PBH’s National Action Plan to Promote Health Through Increased Fruit and Vegetable Consumption calls on government leaders, schools, fruit and vegetable producers and retailers, restaurants, workplaces, healthcare and others to take action to help consumers more than double their fruit and vegetable intake to meet the new dietary goals. It offers a host of short- and long-range strategies to create a food environment where the healthy choice is also the easy choice.
KC's View:
With all due respect, we think Dr. Pivonka is overreacting a bit to the introduction of the new nutrition pyramid today, perhaps a reflection of the fact that she has a vested interest in the increased consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Do we think the new pyramid is the ultimate answer to all the nation’s nutrition/obesity problems? Of course not. But unlike Dr. Pivonka, we actually think the new pyramid is an improvement on the old one – it makes more sense graphically, the use of “cups” as opposed to “servings” is an improvement that is easier to understand, and we walked away from it feeling as though it was making what can be a complicated subject fairly simple.

We shouldn’t expect the federal government to provide all the answers. The pyramid should be a starting point from which retailers can make recommendations to their shoppers, associations can develop dietary and marketing plans, and parents can make decisions for themselves and their children.

By the way, we are disappointed by one thing.

We’ve reviewed the pyramid and read the new federal recommendations a couple of dozen times, and no matter how closely we look, we can’t find any reference to one specific and highly important food group.