Two types of fat distinguish good and bad
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|Not all fats are equal, he says. Two types of fat -- saturated fat, found in whole milk and fatty red meat; and trans fatty acids, found in many margarines and vegetable shortenings -- should be limited because they contribute to the artery-clogging process that leads to heart disease, stroke and other problems, he says. But monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable oils, nuts, other plant products and fish are good for your heart, Willett says.|
11/04/2002 - Updated 07:16 PM ET
Scales tip in favor of new food pyramid
By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY
A new version of the food pyramid could have a major impact on what Americans eat because it's used by dieters, taught to schoolchildren and plastered on bread packages. The final verdict on any changes won't be out until 2004, but until then there's plenty of room for discussion.
Since the pyramid was released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1992, nutrition scientists have criticized the content and design and proposed numerous alternatives, including the Healthy Eating Pyramid, California Cuisine Food Pyramid, Mediterranean Diet Pyramid and Soul Food Pyramid.
Some experts think the USDA pyramid desperately needs this reassessment. "You can think of the pyramid as a dowdy old lady who never got a new wardrobe," says Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Boston. "She hasn't been updated on the basis of new scientific evidence and new dietary recommendations."
"It's severely out of date," says Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health.
He says the pyramid doesn't reflect the latest research on nutrition and weight control, and it may be contributing to obesity and health problems in this country.
Judi Adams, president of the Wheat Foods Council, an industry group that promotes eating grains, agrees that it needs some "tweaking," including emphasizing whole grains more.
The government pyramid, created as a tool to teach the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, took on many shapes before it was released. Officials tested images of a plate, a bowl and a shopping cart before choosing the pyramid.
"We are looking to make sure the recommendations are consistent with the most recent science, and that it (the pyramid) is better interpreted by the public," says Steven Christensen, acting director of USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.
The agency is taking a hard look at the design and messages. The USDA is also reviewing new nutrient recommendations from the National Academies' Institute of Medicine, which include advice on many things from dietary fiber to daily activity. "We are looking to see if the servings in the Food Guide Pyramid meet the new recommendations," says the agency's John Webster.
He says many people use the graphic image and don't study the guidance that elaborates on the pyramid's meaning (found under food guide pyramid at www.cnpp.usda.gov). "It has become a stand-alone image, and people don't necessarily associate it with the text that goes with it."
That text includes recommendations on consuming low-fat or non-fat dairy products, eating less saturated fat and choosing several servings a day of foods made from whole grains such as whole-wheat bread and whole-grain cereals.
People may look at the base and think they can consume anywhere from six to 11 servings a day from the bread, cereal, rice and pasta group. However, the text explains that the number of servings that one should eat is based on calorie consumption. So a person consuming about 1,600 calories a day should have about six servings from the grain group; a person consuming 2,200 calories a day should have about nine servings and 2,800 should have about 11 servings.
Webster says many spinoffs of the symbol have been pyramids. "It's probably the most recognized nutrition symbol that's ever been developed."
Among the alternatives is one designed by Willett called the Healthy Eating Pyramid. In it, he puts daily exercise and weight control at the base, recommends eating whole-grain foods at most meals and suggests eating vegetables "in abundance." He places emphasis on plant oils, like olive, canola and soy, and gives fish and poultry a higher profile than red meat, which he recommends eating sparingly.
Willett, author of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, objects to the fact that the government pyramid doesn't distinguish between types of fats and lumps them all together at the top with the advice to "use sparingly."
Not all fats are equal, he says. Two types of fat -- saturated fat, found in whole milk and fatty red meat; and trans fatty acids, found in many margarines and vegetable shortenings -- should be limited because they contribute to the artery-clogging process that leads to heart disease, stroke and other problems, he says. But monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable oils, nuts, other plant products and fish are good for your heart, Willett says.
Mary Young of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association says any changes to the meat group "would concern me. I don't think the science would support minimizing the meat group that everybody needs, in particular kids."
Adams says Americans are eating about one serving of whole grains a day when they should be eating three. But she says there's not enough science to back up the idea of consuming only whole grains.
Lichtenstein says how fats are displayed on the pyramid is a problem. Plus, the image should emphasize low-fat and non-fat dairy products, eating fish a couple of times a week and daily physical activity, she says.
She believes a new visual image is needed "to better convey that there has been a change in the types of recommendations we are making."
But USDA's Christensen says the current shape works. "Changing our symbol to something else would be like shooting ourselves in the foot."
Pyramid ideas should be sent to: USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, 3101 Park Center Drive, Room 1034, Alexandria, Va. 22302