Food Pyramid: Experts Explain Food Guidelines (cont.)

To help us figure out which pyramid has our name on it, the web site offers a program, found at Here you enter your age, weight, sex, and activity level, to find out what you need to eat as well as track it.

Or you can simply go to WebMD's special report on The New Food Pyramid and check out the charts and information on each food group to help you figure out how much you should eat each day.

For those who don't have access to a computer, the government says they will release an old-fashioned pen and pencil version we can all use to calculate what our food intake should be.

"Among the biggest criticisms of the old pyramid was that while it may have suggested what to eat, it never really
told us how much."

While the algorithm used to determine our food intake is under some scrutiny -- the requirements for a man in his mid-40s, for example, can be identical to that of his 15-year-old son -- experts say the overall message here is a good one. Namely, that we need to take an individual look at what and how much we are eating.

"They were trying to be adaptable, and that's always a difficult thing when you are dealing with millions and millions of people," says Nonas.

Plates a-Plenty: Controlling What You Eat

Among the biggest criticisms of the old pyramid was that while it may have suggested what to eat, it never really told us how much. And though we can't get into too much trouble in categories like fruits and vegetables, where many Americans ran amok was in the section labeled "grains."

"People just didn't know what a whole grain was, so they ended up eating a ton of white bread, white rice, and pasta, all the time thinking they were doing the right thing," says nutritionist Samantha Heller, MS, RD, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Medical Center in New York.

Now, says Heller, the guidelines clearly spell out that of the 8 ounces of grains needed every day, at least half should be whole grains -- foods like oatmeal, whole-grain bread, brown rice, and whole-grain cereals.

And, she says, meeting this recommendation is easier than we think.

"Have a bowl of oatmeal cereal for breakfast and you have two servings. Eat your lunch on two slices of whole wheat bread and you have two more servings -- and bingo, you've made your whole-grain requirement for the day," says Heller.

Once you've figured out how much of each food group you need each day, you can figure out how to meet these requirements. And meeting these requirements may also be easier than you think.

"Most people eat at least a cup of salad at a time -- so if you eat one with lunch, you've got two servings of vegetables; add a half cup of another vegetable with dinner and you are there," says Heller.

For breakfast, she suggests drinking just 4 ounces of a whole juice. And grab an apple for an afternoon snack, which can fill your fruit requirement for the day.

"It's really not that difficult if you just stop to think about it," Heller tells WebMD.

And that, say experts, is precisely what the new pyramid was designed to help us do.

Adds Holland: "The 'real life' take-home message is to make intelligent food choices -- whenever possible opting for the most nutrient dense foods -- plus, watch your portion sizes, and get some exercise every day. That's all you really need to remember."

Published April 27, 2005.

SOURCES: Cathy Nonas, MS, RD, director, diabetes and obesity programs, North General Hospital, Harlem, New York. Jyni Holland, MS, RD, co-author (with Shirley Mathews), The Complete Idiot's Guide Weight Loss Tracker. Samantha Heller, MS, RD, senior clinical nutritionist, NYU Medical Center, New York. Statement, April 25, 2005, Michael F. Jacobson, executive director, Center for Science in the Public Interest.

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Last Editorial Review: 5/9/2005 2:14:17 PM