Mon, Mar

New Guidelines Repackage Old Message: Exercise More, Eat Less


Andrew Martin, Chicago Tribune

Jan. 13—WASHINGTON — The ubiquitous Food Guide Pyramid that has been the centerpiece of the federal government's nutrition advice for more than a decade was officially declared dead Wednesday.

In its place, federal officials unveiled the final draft of their blueprint for nutrition, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005,which even some staunch critics hailed as a breakthrough. It lays the groundwork for a new food pyramid, to be released in a month or two.

The dietary guidelines, which were developed over the past year by a panel of nutrition experts, call for Americans to eat vastly more fruit and vegetables, bulk up on whole grains, and most important perhaps, limit intake of unhealthy fats, salt and added sugar.

The new guidelines — providing a much more specific plan of action than the old ones — also urge Americans to exercise at least 30 minutes a day and to consume only as many calories as they need.

The release of the dietary guidelines sets the stage for the much tougher task of selling the federal nutrition plan to the American public, which spends about $42 billion a year on diet plans yet remains collectively overweight.

"This is probably the best diet plan out there," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, who quipped that those who followed the recommendations would improve their looks.

"If you lose weight, it takes less time to shave in the morning," he added, saying that he was speaking from experience.

Despite Thompson's plugs for the dietary plan, it remained largely unclear how the federal government would convince the public to embrace the guidelines, which in essence repackage an age-old mantra: Exercise more and eat less.

"Every American is looking for NIH (the National Institutes of Health) to come up with that pill," Thompson said. "It's not going to happen."

While praising the new guidelines, Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group, said, "We need more than hopes and prayers to move people towards a healthy diet.

"Congress is really going to have to devote some money," he said. "We really don't see any big dollars coming along."

The guidelines, written primarily for health-care and nutrition professionals, are revised every five years and are used as the basis for federal nutrition policy, providing guidance for such projects as federally funded school lunch programs and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC.

The release of the dietary guidelines is part of a multipronged approach by the government to urge Americans to eat healthier food, with the ultimate goal of reducing the level of obesity and diseases associated with excess weight, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and half don't get enough exercise, Thompson said.

In coming months, the Food and Drug Administration is planning to unveil revisions to the nutrition facts panel on food packages to make it easier for consumers to use. Among the likely changes is one that would use household measures, such as cups or ounces, to describe serving sizes instead of the current variety of measurements.

Federal officials also plan to unveil a new consumer-friendly food guide that will be based on the 2005 dietary guidelines and will replace the Food Guide Pyramid, which was released in 1992 and had remained unchanged since.

The pyramid has been sharply criticized by some nutritionists for lumping healthy food in the same category as unhealthy food, and for providing fuzzy guidance on how much Americans should eat.

Carlos Camargo, Harvard University epidemiologist and a member of the advisory panel that revised the dietary guidelines, said, "We used to recommend that you base everything around (the food pyramid). That is not present in anything you read today."

Among the most significant changes in the new guidelines are 12 diet plans, as opposed to three in previous years, designed to fit people of different ages, genders and size. The diets range from a 1,000-calorie plan for a youngster to a 3,200-calorie plan for an athlete.

The guidelines encourage nine servings of fruit and vegetable as part of a 2,000-calorie diet, upending the old "five-a-day" rule, and at least three servings of whole grains, as opposed to refined grains found in white bread. Three cups of fat-free or low-fat milk per day — or an equivalent dairy product — were also recommended.

The guidelines encourage consumption of foods rich in potassium, and recommend limiting sodium intake to one teaspoon a day, as well as curtailing consumption of foods with added sugars and fats and oils high in saturated fats or trans fatty acids.

The guidelines also introduce the idea of a "discretionary calorie allowance," meaning the amount of calories in sweets, fats or alcohol that someone could eat if he or she had already met the nutritional requirements for the day. For instance, a person on a 2,200-calorie diet might have 290 discretionary calories.

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© 2005, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.