Food Pyramid & Guide (cont.)

Moderation, Moderation, Moderation

The revised pyramid is based on U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary recommendations released in January 2005. It still emphasizes grains, fruits, and vegetables with limited amounts of meats, oils, and fat.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns describes the main thrust of the retooled pyramid as "first and foremost, moderation."

"Pay attention to what you're eating, moderation, and then exercise. Even a small amount of exercise will make a difference," he says.

In addition to familiar cartoon representations of recommended foods, the pyramid includes a stick-figure human climbing steps to its top, a symbol meant to emphasize physical activity, officials say.

The new strategy is shown on a government web site --- www.mypyramid.gov. It's designed to help individuals plan their dietary intake based on their age, sex, and level of daily physical activity. Officials say the new emphasis on individualized diet advice is an improvement over the 1992 Food Guide Pyramid, which issued one set of recommendations averaged out for all Americans.

"It's become quite familiar, but few Americans follow the recommendations," Johanns says of the 1992 pyramid. "Every single American can find a MyPyramid that is right for them" with the new system.

A 55-year-old woman who exercises less than 30 minutes a day is told to consume 1,600 calories per day in a diet consisting of 5 ounces of grains, 3.5 ounces of fruits and vegetables, 3 cups of milk and dairy products, and 5 ounces of meat and beans. For a man of the same age and exercise level, the site calls for a diet limited to 2,000 calories per day.

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD, director of nutrition for WebMD, says the updated recommendations make good nutrition sense.

"MyPyramid reinforces what health professionals have been advocating for years -- make small dietary changes toward healthier lifestyles, be active, and enjoy all foods in proper proportion."

But she notes that it's up to individuals to take charge of their health: "Even the best recommendations are only useful if consumers heed the advice and take steps to improve their eating and exercise habits."

Not for Losing Weight

The limits are designed for weight maintenance, not necessarily weight loss, says Eric Hentges, PhD, executive director of the Center for Nutrition Policy Programs at USDA and one of the chief architects of the revised pyramid.

"It is not a diet plan, it is a plan for healthy eating," he says. Officials hope that consumers will use the web site to track their daily food intake as a starting point for gradually losing weight.

"The issue here is getting started. If you're not monitoring, you're likely not going to be able to make progress" losing weight, Hentges says.