Climbing the new food pyramid: EN lends a hand

Climbing the new food pyramid: EN lends a hand

Janet Helm

EN eagerly anticipated the government’s updated nutrition icon, but we’re underwhelmed and disappointed with what was unveiled. As a stand-alone symbol, the new graphic falls .at. The wordless rainbow pyramid is colorful, but says little; it doesn’t even show foods. Here are more highs and lows:

What It Does Mostly Right:

* Puts important emphasis on fitness.

* Acknowledges differences among fats by grouping liquid oils (beneficial mono and polyunsaturated fats) separately from unhealthful trans and saturated fats (though it’s not at all apparent from glancing at the graphic).

What It Doesn’t Do Well:

* Consider height and weight when determining calorie requirements.

* Provide a weight-loss plan, despite evidence that Americans weigh too much.

* Make it clear at a glance which foods to emphasize (whole grains, colorful vegetables, beans, low-fat dairy) and which to limit (fatty meats, trans-fat-laden snacks, sugary drinks).

There is a lot to glean from this new tool. But there’s a huge catch–you must access the Internet. Only then is the much-ballyhooed personalized part of the pyramid useful. If you’re game, check out what clicks are worthwhile, below. to Click (No computer? Try the library.)

“My Pyramid Plan”–Enter your info and click to customize your calories and servings.

“Meal Tracking Worksheet”–After customizing, click for a form to print to track your intake.

“Inside the Pyramid”–Click this, then on each color wedge, “learn more” and “view food gallery” for what counts as a serving. Click on the stairs, “learn more,” “calories used” and “click to see chart” for the calories activities burn.

“My Pyramid Tracker”–For the ambitious, to complete a detailed analysis of your eating and activity habits. You can track your progress and store information on the site for up to a year.

MyPyramid’s Must-Have Messages

* One size does not fit all. There are 12 different calorie levels; we’ve consolidated that into two groups with ranges (see chart below).

* Strike a balance. “Calories in” must equal “calories out” to maintain weight. If you move more, you can eat more.

* Go for variety. Each wedge of the pyramid is color-coded to represent a food group. The largest depict grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy. For good health, you should eat a rainbow of colors each day.

* Size does matter. Portion sizes are important; servings are now in helpful household measures like cups.

* Choose your calories wisely. While it isn’t apparent from a glance, the wedge shapes–wider at the bottom and narrower at the top–indicate that each food group has better and worse choices. The idea is to choose more nutrient-dense foods–the most nutrients for the fewest calories–and fewer foods high in saturated or trans fats or added sugars.


EN’s Quick and Easy Guide to the Pyramid: The Specifics Simplified

The new interactive tools on allow you to personalize how many calories and the number of food group servings you need to maintain a healthy weight. If you’re not likely to go online, we’ve boiled down the variety of calorie levels to a range that the average woman and average man require. (Older people should follow the lower calorie levels and food servings, while younger people need the higher levels and servings.) Subtract 500 calories a day if you need to lose weight.

 GENERAL FOOD GUIDELINES Sex and Age Estimated Calories Grains * Vegetables WOMAN, 26 and up 1,800-2,000

6 oz. 2 1/2 cups MAN, 26 and up 2,200-2,600 7-9 oz. 3-3 1/2 cups Sex and Age Fruits Milk Meat/Beans ** WOMAN, 26 and up 1 1/2-2 cups 3 cups 5-5 1/2 oz. MAN, 26 and up 2 cups 3 cups 6-6 1/2 oz. Sex and Age

Oils Extras (+) WOMAN, 26 and up 5-6 tsp. 195-265 cal. MAN, 26 and up 6-8 tsp. 290-410 cal. oz. = ounces; tsp. = teaspoons; cal. = calories * Serving equivalents for grains: 1 ounce = 1 slice bread, 1 cup cold cereal, 1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta or cooked cereal. At least half should be whole grains. ** Serving equivalents for meat and beans: 1 ounce = 1 ounce lean meat, poultry, fish, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon peanut butter, 1/4 cup cooked beans, 1/2 ounce nuts. (+) Extras include any solid fats, added sugars and alcohol in the foods you eat and drink.

Note: These examples assume a moderate activity level of 30 to 60 minutes a day. If you are more sedentary, subtract 200 calories a day.

–Janet Helm, M.S., R.D. and EN editors

COPYRIGHT 2005 Belvoir Media Group, LLC

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