Washington In trying to persuade Americans to slim down and eat more vegetables, the federal nutrition gurus who are redesigning the government's Food Guide Pyramid face a formidable task.
While glitzy diet plans remain perennial best sellers, most Americans are inactive and fat. While nutritionists push broccoli and water, television advertising dangles snack chips and beer. And while U.S. agriculture policy subsidizes and promotes such commodities as sugar and cheese, it offers little or no assistance to fruit and vegetable growers.
Facing this reality, the man who is overseeing the first redesign of the nation's ubiquitous nutrition symbol said Wednesday his team was considering a radically different approach that aims to compete with the Atkins and South Beach diet plans.
Eric Hentges, executive director of the Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, said the revised pyramid would likely be further tailored, offering 12 diet plans ranging from 1,000 calories a day for children to 3,200 calories a day for athletes. The current pyramid is tailored to just three levels of calorie intake.
"If you are a 1,600 calorie model, you shouldn't be eating what the 2,800-calorie model does," he said at a meeting to discuss the nation's nutrition policy.
Besides tailoring diets, Hentges said his agency also hoped to make the Food Guide Pyramid easy for consumers to use by providing such things as an interactive Web site that could customize information for each user. While the specifics of the diet plan remain unresolved -- officials aren't even sure the new guide will retain the pyramid shape -- Hentges said he expected some "bold" recommendations encouraging Americans to change their eating habits.
For instance, sedentary men between ages 31 and 50 would be urged to quadruple their consumption of dark green vegetables and legumes, triple the amount of whole grains they eat and double their intake of orange vegetables.
The revision of the Food Guide Pyramid is due out early next year.