The New Dietary Guidelines: Putting Pyramids into Practice?

On January 12th the government issued the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines, updated every five years in collaboration with the country’s most esteemed nutritionists, medical professionals and fitness experts, now accurately reflect the leading scientific and medical findings in the fields of nutrition and exercise. To my relief, the new guidelines encourage an approach to nutrition that has been a main-stay of nu-train for years: the cornerstone of a healthy diet must be based on unprocessed, nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits, lean protein sources, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. While none of the recommendations are necessarily surprising, it is important to point out that unfortunately they do not reflect the way the most Americans currently eat. At-A-Glance: The 2005 Dietary Guidelines
  • Eat fewer calories: According to the guidelines, “most Americans consume more calories than they need without meeting recommended intakes for a number of nutrients”. In other words, the country is both overweight and malnourished.
  • Limit consumption of saturated and trans fats: Artery-clogging saturated fats are found in marbled meats, trans fats are found in packaged baked items.
  • Limit added sugars: Sweetened beverages and sodas have created a health burden that will take decades to reverse
  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables: From dark leafy vegetables to deep red berries, American should consume 2.5 cups of vegetables (5 servings) and 2 cups (4 servings) of fruit a day*. Cut back on juices and eat whole fruits instead.
  • Make sure to fill your calcium requirement: Low-fat dairy products are the most efficient sources of viable calcium. The Guidelines recommend 3 cups/servings a day*.
  • Moderate alcohol intake: Like soda, a glass of empty calories does not count towards your daily nutrient requirements.
  • Cut back on salt: To combat high blood pressure Americans should limit their salt intake and increase their potassium intake.
  • Choose lean sources of protein: Lean meats, poultry and fish should be prepared by grilling, baking and broiling them to maintain their full health benefit. 5.5 ounces of protein are recommended a day*.
  • Eat whole grains: At least half of the day’s daily consumption of grains should be fiber-rich, whole grains. (Total recommended grain consumption is 6 oz)*
The biggest difference between the new guidelines and past recommendations is not just the quantity of fruits, vegetables and grains one should consume every day, but the quality and the variety. The new recommendations distinguish between starchy vegetables, dark leafy greens, and beans, accounting for the fact that there is a huge difference between a plate of mashed potatoes and cup of cooked spinach. Which leads me to my next point: how does the government intend to illustrate the guidelines in a user-friendly format? As forward-thinking as the guidelines are, they were not intended for direct-to consumer use. For most Americans, being able to visualize the way to eat is vital to their following the recommendations. So where’s the new food pyramid? Interestingly, it is still in the works; the out-dated 13 year-old ‘Food Pyramid’ will eventually be revamped to reflect the 2005 guidelines. Wanting to get it right this time, the government is still grappling with the best way to depict the nutritional values of foods. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal described the “Radiant Pyramid Concept”. This type of illustration will not give any one food group the envious “base” of the pyramid, instead the base will be made up of the “power calories” sources and the items at the top will have the least nutritional value. The new pyramid can not be built fast enough. *based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Recommended daily allowances will be different based on daily caloric needs for weight loss and management.


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