Food Pyramid Up for Restructure
The debate over what constitutes a healthy diet is as old as, well,
the Pyramids. But one of its most cherished cornerstones, the USDA's
Food Guide Pyramid, is finally up for an overhaul.
nutritionists, food industry representatives and everyday Americans
largely agreed Thursday at an Agriculture Department public hearing
in Washington, D.C., that the basic food groups hierarchy of the
pyramid should remain as is.
The real problem, they said according to wire service reports,
is that the Pyramid's healthy-diet message is being ignored now
more than ever.
"We have to find some really clever people who are good at
communicating that message, so that people can understand it and
act on it. We have to find a way to reach the masses, because right
now the masses are listening to McDonald's commercials," hearing
attendee Katharine Tallmadge, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman
for the American Dietetic Association, said in an interview.
Experts at the USDA designed the current Food Guide Pyramid 12
years ago. To keep pace with emerging science, the USDA is now reviewing
the guidelines, with the next round of revisions slated for release
in mid-2005. The official deadline for public comment on the new
guidelines is Aug. 27.
The pyramid advises that an individual's daily diet consist of
at least six servings of breads or cereals each day (the base of
the pyramid), three to five servings of vegetables and two to four
servings of fruits (the 2nd tier), two servings each of dairy products
and meat (the narrower, 3rd tier) and only "occasional"
nibbles of fats, oils or sweets, perched at the pyramid's tip.
Nutritionists and industry representatives agree that current science
still supports this type of diet for keeping Americans lean and
"These dietary guidelines are based on really good science,"
Tallmadge said, adding, however, that small shifts within the pyramid
are being considered.
"Should fruits and vegetables be at the base, which some people
suggest? Should legumes be in the same category as meat? These are
interesting questions," she said.
And then there's that elephant in the room, the Atkins Diet, which
in essence flips the pyramid upside-down, emphasizing meats and
fats over high-carb grains, fruits and veggies.
even food manufacturers agreed there's no scientific evidence for
any pyramidal shift toward a low-carb diet.
"There's been a lot of consumer demand for low-carbohydrate
foods," said Richard Martin, vice president of communications
for the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), which lobbies on
behalf of the industry. "But I'd tell you that nutritionists
don't advocate these types of diets; rather they advocate that consumers
have access to a broad variety of foods."
In an interview, Martin agreed with Tallmadge that the Food Pyramid
guidelines should remain fundamentally unchanged.
Still, the GMA is making some recommendations -- that the guidelines
"harmonize" more with Nutrition Facts labeling on packaged
foods, and that the USDA consider ethnic and cultural factors driving
dietary choices when reviewing the guidelines.
Most of all, Martin said, the USDA needs to get better at communicating
its message -- "Keep it simple, and make it achievable."
A savvier, sexier information campaign wouldn't hurt, either, Tallmadge
"We've put a lot of money into the guidelines, but what about
hiring behaviorists, communication specialists, even a really fabulous
advertising firm, to make a science out of how to communicate this
healthy-diet message to Americans?" she said.
Right now the USDA "just doesn't have the budget" to
compete with the advertising muscle of the food industry, Tallmadge
But she believes Americans will heed the siren song of health --
if it's served up right.
"There are people out there who know how to get people to
make good food decisions, but somehow the government is not employing
them," Tallmadge said.
"The USDA has the brain power and ability to design the Food
Pyramid; they now need a budget to design some really hot messages
that people will use to change their lives," she added.