Reshaping the Pyramid: Federal Dietary Guidelines to Change

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Federal dietary guidelines are due for their five-year update this December and the inter-agency committee of officials — from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with nutrition experts from outside the government — are currently debating exactly what will change.

One major tension centers around satisfying the nutritional advice of the scientific panel while navigating the political affiliations of agricultural industries. Recommending that Americans eat less or more of any particular type of food is bound to draw ire from various food lobbies. Whole states — those with large dairy industries, for example — may object to the wording of advice pertaining to saturated fat, cholesterol, vitamin D or calcium. (More on The ‘Other’ Salt: 5 Foods Rich in Potassium)

The Washington Post reports that certain industries are already on the offensive:

In public comments, the meat lobby has opposed strict warnings on sodium that could cast a negative light on lunch meats. The milk lobby has expressed concerns about warnings to cut back on added sugars, lest chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milks fall from favor. Several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation also weighed in against added-sugar restrictions in defense of the cranberry.

“This is the real test of whether this administration is serious about helping people to change their diets,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition at the Washington-based public health watchdog Center for Science in the Public Interest.

But with obesity and related conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure at epidemic levels in the United States, many nutrition experts are hoping that the new guidelines will differ substantially from the current food pyramid. One criticism of the 2005 pyramid is that it lacks clarity, which do not expressly warn against eating certain foods. Instead, the pyramid is permissive of everything so as not to alienate any industries. But without explicit restrictions, guidelines have been unclear for consumers.

One possible solution suggested by the CDC: instead of a triangle, why not represent food groups on an actual plate? This way, viewers can visualize their steak portion more easily.  After all, few people eat off a three-dimensional triangle.

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