Remember the old Food Pyramid that we were all taught in school? You know, the one that told us to eat more 'grains and carbohydrates' than anything else? Last January the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a new symbol and interactive food guidance system called "MyPyramid". This picture, which replaces the Food Guide Pyramid introduced in 1992, is part of an overall system that emphasizes the need for a more individualized approach to improving diet and lifestyle. The system embodies the recommendations of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which advise how proper dietary habits can promote health and reduce the risk of major chronic diseases for people two years of age and older.
True health and fitness professionals are not huge fans of 'one size fits all' nutritional programs. As a matter of fact, the reasons most diets fail is that they try to fit you (an individual) into a program designed for everyone. Honestly, did we ever believe that one dietary recommendation (the old Food Guide Pyramid) was valid for everyone in the USA?
This strong aversion to the 'one size fits all' dietary guideline is exactly why we like the new MyPyramid so much. Take for example this quote copied directly from the MyPyramid website: "One size doesn't fit all. MyPyramid Plan can help you choose the foods and amounts that are right for you. For a quick estimate of what and how much you need to eat, enter your age, sex, and activity level in the MyPyramid Plan box. For a detailed assessment of your food intake and physical activity level, click on MyPyramid Tracker." (Source: mypyramid.gov)
What We Like About The New Guidelines:
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has done a fine job of updating the Food Guide Pyramid and adding specifics that we find helpful. For example:
1) MyPyramid make a distinction between 'grains' and 'whole grains', which is critical for life-long health and fitness.
2) Rather than just suggesting we 'eat fruits and vegetables' (which may prompt some to drink fruit juice and think they're being healthy), MyPyramid encourages the consumption of a broad range of fresh fruits and vegetables while at the same time discouraging fruit juices (which are often lacking in nutrition and full of empty calories).
3) MyPyramid suggests that we consume low-fat dairy products, rather than just dairy products. Some milk, and most cheeses, are FULL of saturated fat and may be harmful. The new recommendations take this into account and prompt us to look for healthy dairy choices.
4) Just like it does with the dairy category, MyPyramid tells us to search out low-fat protein choices like fish and nuts. The new guidelines even teach us about healthy oils vs. harmful fats.
5) Finally, and most importantly, MyPyramid actually discusses exercise. Finally! The guidelines demonstrate the difference between moderate and vigorous activity, and provide broad recommendations targeted towards the average American.
What We Don't Like About The New Guidelines:
1) The MyPyramid website (mypyramid.gov) has a section called 'My Pyramid Plan' that estimates BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). In other words, this site estimates how many calories we should consume each day. The problem is that they (the USDA) use only our age, sex and physical activity level to determine our caloric goal. No mention is made of height differences or the amount of lean muscle mass we have on our frame. Lean muscle mass is a huge factor in determining caloric needs, so we were disappointed to see that it's not included in these calculations. Broad generalizations like this fail to take into account individual differences, and thus are almost always sure to be inaccurate for many of us.
2) The 'Physical Activity' section of MyPyramid fails miserably in that it doesn't provide the exercise education we need in order to be successful. No mention is made of the differences between aerobic and anaerobic exercise, or the role of resistance exercise in a healthy lifestyle.
While the new USDA guidelines are certainly much better than the old Food Guide Pyramid, we were still discouraged to see that MyPyramid does not fully address exercise. Until we as a nation understand the basic facts about exercise, we will continue to struggle with fat and weight issues.
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Tracie Johanson is the founder of Pick Up The Pace, a 30-minute exercise studio for women focusing on fitness, health and nutrition for maximum weight loss. Please visit www.letspickupthepace.com/ for more information.
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