Q: Can you explain the new food pyramid? It looks a lot different from the old one.
A: In April, the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion introduced MyPyramid, a new symbol and interactive food guidance system. The system's central message, "Steps to a Healthier You," supports President Bush's HealthierUS initiative, which is designed to help Americans live longer, healthier lives. MyPyramid replaces the Food Guide Pyramid introduced in 1992 and is part of an overall food guidance system that emphasizes a more individualized approach to improving diet and lifestyle.
MyPyramid incorporates recommendations from the publication, Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, released in January by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The dietary guidelines provide authoritative advice for people 2 years and older about how proper dietary habits can promote health and reduce the risk of major chronic diseases.
MyPyramid was developed to illustrate the guidelines and to make Americans aware of the vital benefits modest improvements in nutrition, physical activity and lifestyle behavior can have on their health. The MyPyramid symbol, which is deliberately simple, is meant to encourage consumers to make healthier food choices and to be active every day.
Now, let me try to explain the design of the symbol to you:
Personalized just for YOU
According to the USDA, MyPyramid "symbolizes a personalized approach to healthy eating and physical activity." That is the key difference to the new pyramid. Food is still categorized into food groups. But each food group is now represented as a triangle. It begins with grains on the left, then moves through vegetables, fruits, oils and milk. Meat and beans complete the pyramid on the far right.
But how much of each food group should you eat? That depends. The number of calories you need to maintain a healthy weight is determined by your age, gender and activity level. MyPyramid assigns individuals to different calorie levels and three levels of activity (sedentary, moderately active and active).
The figure climbing the steps on the MyPyramid represents YOU being active. For the first time, USDA Food Guidance includes recommendations for physical activity. This is in response to the increase in couch potato syndrome - sedentary lifestyles in America. The USDA recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week to lower your risks of diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. To manage your weight and prevent unhealthy weight gain, you need up to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days of the week. If you need to lose weight or keep the weight off, it recommends 90 minutes of modest exercise every day.
Notice that the food group triangles that make up the MyPyramid are wider at the bottom and get narrower as they go up to the tip of the pyramid. The wider base represents foods with little or no solid fats or added sugar. It is wider to show that you should choose these foods more often. The narrow tops represent foods that contain added sugars and solid fats. The more active you are, the more you can fit these types of foods into your daily diet.
Take vegetables, for example. At the base would be plain, steamed broccoli. Moving up might be broccoli with lemon juice and olive oil, then broccoli with cheese sauce, finally deep fried, breaded broccoli with cheese sauce. For grains, how about cooked plain oatmeal, then sweetened instant oatmeal with raisins, oatmeal cookies and, at the top, oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips and frosting. Get the picture?
This is represented by the different widths of the food group bands. The widest band is grains, then vegetables and milk. Fruit is wider than meat and beans. Oils are in the slimmest band. The widths suggest how much food a person should choose from each food group. These are just a general guide. How much YOU need depends, again, on your caloric needs based on your age, gender and activity level.
MyPyramid includes six bands representing the five food groups and oils. This is to show that foods from all groups are needed each day for good health. Each food group makes a distinct contribution to meeting your nutritional needs. Oils are included for the first time because research shows that vegetable oils and oils in some fish contain fatty acids that are important for good health.
Thankfully, the USDA recognizes that, in order to follow their MyPyramid recommendations, no one can make the changes in their diet and activity patterns overnight. One small step at a time, steps to a healthier you, can be important to making great improvements in your health.
Make it work for YOU
Visit www.MyPyramid.gov for a fun, informative assessment of your diet and activity needs. Find your daily calorie level by filling out the My Pyramid Plan. After you plug in your age, gender and activity level, you will see how much of each of the food groups are recommended for you to eat each day. Meal patterns, menu suggestions and worksheets are also available for you to print out. After visiting the Web site, take a look at what you eat now. Write down your food choices for a few days. Count the numbers of servings, cups, or ounces from each food group. What changes do you need to make? Are you eating whole grains? Do you eat enough vegetables or fruit? (Sorry, french fries don't count.) Are you active enough to maintain a healthy life?
Make one positive change. Then keep it up. To quote Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." Why not start your journey to a healthier you today?
If you'd like to pick up a copy of MyPyramid, stop by the display located in the 4-H Foods Department in Building 21 North during the Douglas County Free Fair.
Also, for anyone who teaches foods and nutrition, I will be conducting a MyPyramid training from 8:30 -11:30 a.m. Friday at the K-State Research and Extension Douglas County Office, located on the fairgrounds. During this training session, I will be sharing more in-depth information about MyPyramid, plus offering ideas on how to use it when teaching youths and adults about healthy eating. If you are interested in participating in this free training designed for nutrition educators, please pre-register by calling 843-7058.