Currently browsing posts about: Food-guide

Oct 18 2011

What is the Washington Legal Foundation?

The Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) placed an ad in yesterday’s New York Times.  

The Real Nutritional Guidelines

The ad continues:

Paternalistic plaintiffs’ lawyers, government officials, and professional activists are pecking away at consumers’ freedom of choice. They think we can’t manage our own lives, and through lawsuits, regulations, and taxes, they want to make our food choices for us—while profiting handsomely in the process. If we let these New Prohibitionists eat off our plates today, what other personal freedoms will they target tomorrow?

Help us defend consumer choice at EatingAwayOurFreedoms.org.

The website lists cigarette companies as clients:

The Washington Legal Foundation advocates for a free market economy, a common sense legal system, a transparent and accountable government, and a strong national defense. Our legal team shapes legal policy through aggressive litigation and advocacy at all levels of the judiciary and the policy-making arena.

Aggressive?  Clearly.

I’m not familiar with this group.  Could it possibly be connected to the Center for Consumer Freedom?

If you know anything about the WLF, do tell.

Addition, October 19: Thanks to readers for the enlightening comments.  One sent this document, in which WLF explains its mission.

If consumer protection were the real goal [of consumer advocates], then special interest ideologues would applaud businesses’ vigorous self-regulation of their advertising, and advocate viable, non-censorship solutions such as increased enforcement of underage drinking laws and more education on healthy food.

Instead of dumbing down America through activism, why not focus our efforts on real problems we face and produce drugs and vaccines to deal with pandemics, bioterrorism, and cancer. These are critical challenges that make the radical causes of self-anointed consumer advocates look petty and hopelessly irrelevant.

Reversing childhood obesity is a radical cause?  I’m for it!

Jun 17 2011

Baseball fans: a food plate just for you!

In case you missed it, here’s another contribution to food guides, this one from the Smack! sports section of the Chicago Tribune (June 5):

No comment needed.

Enjoy the weekend!

[Thanks to Yankees fans Sandy and John for sending]

Jun 9 2011

“A plate? For food? Americans don’t use plates.”

I know I said I was done with USDA’s MyPlate, but some of the later commentary is not to be missed.

Steven Colbert, for example, has an interesting take on it (that’s his quote):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so does the pseudonymous “Ruth Bourdain” (no, I have no idea who she or he might be, but I wish I did):

There.  That looks better.

 

 

Jun 5 2011

San Francisco Chronicle column: food plate, of course

My monthly (first Sunday) San Francisco Chronicle Food Matters column is on guess what?  This will be the last post on the new food icon for a while at least, I promise.

Food plate icon improvement of pyramid


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: What’s the big deal over the government’s new food icon? A plate? That seems really boring.

A: The Department of Agriculture’s plate may look banal, but it is a key part of first lady Michelle Obama’s healthy eating campaign and I see it as a big step forward. Unlike the 2005 MyPyramid, this one is mostly about food, is easy to understand, and does not require use of a computer.

The plate does a better job of reflecting current thinking about healthy diets than previous guides. Its four sectors are unequal. Vegetables get the most space, and dairy – a discretionary choice – is off to the side.

You are to pile half your plate with fruit and vegetables, and a quarter with grains (half of them whole grains). All these come from plants.

I’m less happy about the sector marked “protein.” Protein is not a food. It is a nutrient.

USDA must think everyone knows that “protein” means beans, poultry and fish, as well as meat. But grains and dairy, each with its own sector, are also important protein sources. The meat industry wants you to equate protein with meat. It should be happy with this guide.

What I like best are the messages that come with the plate. My favorite? “Enjoy your food, but eat less.”

At last! Enjoyment is part of dietary advice. High marks to USDA for this one.

Other messages are designed to help you eat less while eating better. Smaller portions keep calories under control. Making half your plate fruits and vegetables is a profound switch from the six to 11 calorie-rich grain servings you were supposed to eat daily under the old MyPyramid.

For people who drink milk (really, you don’t have to), switching to low-fat is an effective way to save on calories, and whole grains are better for health than refined, rapidly absorbable starches that behave like sugars in the body.

So far, so good. But next come the politically charged “foods to reduce.” Here, the USDA is leaning in the right direction, but still pulling punches. USDA tells you to reduce sodium from soup, bread and frozen meals, but says nothing about salty snacks or other sodium-laden processed foods. This is a glaring omission.

And the final principle – “drink water instead of sugary drinks” – puts naturally sweet fruit juices (fine in small amounts) in the same category as sugar-added juice drinks, sports drinks and sodas, which ought to be reserved for occasional treats.

Let’s give USDA credit for going as far as it could without directly confronting the processed-food and soft-drink industries.

Optimist that I am, I think the icon has plenty for everyone to work with. It emphasizes the positives – fruits, vegetables, whole grains – and leaves lots of room for enjoyment. You can pile whatever foods you like on that plate as long as they fit within their assigned sectors.

Best of all, you do not have to count numbers of servings. If you want to control the size of your servings, just use a smaller plate.

Consider the alternatives. From 1958 until 1979, the USDA’s uncontroversial Four Food Groups advised eating two or three servings a day from dairy, meat, fruits and vegetables, and breads and cereals – half the plate from animal-source foods.

In 1979, in an effort to help reduce dietary risks for chronic diseases, USDA stacked the groups with plant foods above animal foods, eliciting a furor that led USDA nutritionists to begin a 12-year project to research a new food guide.

USDA released a food guide Pyramid in 1991, withdrew it under protest from meat producers, and re-released it a year later. Meat and dairy producers did not like being at the “eat less” top of the Pyramid. Nutritionists thought it promoted too many servings of high-calorie grains.

In 2005, the USDA replaced that Pyramid with the unobjectionable, food-free MyPyramid. This was impossible to teach (you had to know what each color stood for), eliminated any sense that it is better to eat some foods than others, and required a computer to personalize your own diet.

USDA officials say they spent about $2 million to research and test the new plate logo, create its website, and publicize it. This is a lot or a little depending on your perspective, but a plate is not exactly a new concept. The American Diabetes Association, American Institute for Cancer Research and Canadian government have all used similar plant-focused plates for years. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has one with a similar design but 100 percent vegetarian.

We can argue over nutritional details, but I think USDA’s plate-plus-messages works better than anything it has done before. The plate works for health and for disease prevention. It took courage to make half of it fruit and vegetables. That’s real progress.

Now the challenge is to Congress: How about fixing agricultural policies so they support these recommendations?

 

 

 

The Department of Agriculture's new food-plate icon is an...The Department of Agriculture's new food-plate icon is an...The Department of Agriculture's new food-plate icon is an...

Jun 2 2011

Deconstructing the USDA’s new food plate

I attended the launch of the new food icon this morning, and the press conference following it (which featured Red Rooster chef Marcus Samuelson).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack explained, we have an obesity crisis in America that imperils our nation’s national security, economic vitality, and health care system.  It’s time for action.

I got a preview of the design on a conference call last week (while I was in Spain) and took a screen shot:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This may not look much like action, but it is a sharp departure from previous USDA icons (which USDA has delightfully put online).   These mostly emphasize the importance of meat and dairy foods (the 1992 Pyramid was an exception, which was why the Bush II USDA got rid of it).

Before yawning, consider its strengths:

  • It is easy to understand (as Mrs. Obama explained, even a child can use it).
  • Vegetables comprise the largest sector.
  • Together, vegetables and fruits are half the plate.
  • You can put whatever foods you like on that plate.
  • You don’t have to count servings or worry about portion size (if the plate isn’t too big).
  • Dairy foods–a discretionary group–are off to the side.

My one quibble?  Protein.  I’m a nutritionist.  Protein is a nutrient, not a food.  Protein is not exactly lacking in American diets.  The average American consumes twice the protein needed.  Grains and dairy, each with its own sector, are important sources of protein in American diets.

Why protein?  USDA used to call the group “meat” even though it contained beans, poultry, and fish.  The meat industry ought to be happy about “protein.”  Meat producers have spent years trying to convince Americans to equate meat with protein.

And USDA says its consumer testing (as yet unpublished) indicated that the public understood “protein” to cover diverse food sources.

According to William Neuman’s report in the New York Times, USDA official Robert C. Post said that:

U.S.D.A. had spent about $2 million to develop and promote the logo, including conducting research and focus groups and creating a Web site. Some of that money will also be used for the first year of a campaign to publicize the image.

I would like to see that research.  Post told me that the research would be published on the website within the next few days.  I look forward to seeing it.

One other point: consider the alternative.  Just for fun, here’s the plate the USDA was considering in its last efforts to try to get rid of the Pyramid in 1991.  We have Marian Burros, then at the New York Times, to thank for rescuing the Pyramid that came out in 1992.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next step, of course, is to bring agricultural policy in line with the plate, meaning doing a much better job of supporting producers of vegetables and fruits.  This is part of Secretary Vilsack’s plan for repopulating and revitalizing rural America—a goal that I strongly support.

Given the pushback against public health that is happening in Congress this week—Cut school lunches! Cut WIC! Get rid of nutrition recommendations! Go easy on tobacco and antibiotics!—the more I think it took courage for USDA to do this.

Let’s hope USDA can stand up to the heat.

 

 

 

Jun 1 2011

What will USDA’s food plate look like?

According to William Neuman’s report in the New York Times, a USDA official, Robert C. Post, said the new food guide would be a plate and that it would serve educational purposes :

The agency would use the plate to get across several basic nutritional messages, including urging consumers to eat smaller portions, switch to low-fat or fat-free milk and drink water instead of sugary drinks.

A plate with half devoted to fruits and vegetables is not exactly a new concept.

The American Diabetes Association has been using this plate as  a food guide:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The American Institute for Cancer Research uses this one:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada’s food guide is translated into this plate:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine has an elegantly designed 100% plant-based plate for vegetarians and vegans:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s what CNN thinks the new USDA food icon will look like:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can the USDA improve on the existing versions?  Does CNN have it right?

I’ll be in Washington tomorrow to find out.  You can be there virtually at www.cnpp.usda.gov.

 

May 29 2011

MyPyramid R.I.P.

On May 26, the USDA announced that it will be releasing a new “food icon” to replace the foodless and useless 2005 MyPyramid:

The USDA’s press announcement explained:

The 2010 White House Child Obesity Task Force called for simple, actionable advice to equip consumers with information to help them make healthy food choices. As a result, USDA will be introducing the new food icon to replace the MyPyramid image as the government’s primary food group symbol. It will be an easy-to-understand visual cue to help consumers adopt healthy eating habits consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

What will the new icon look like?  The USDA isn’t saying, but William Neuman of the New York Times did some sleuthing.  According to his account:

The circular plate, which will be unveiled Thursday, is meant to give consumers a fast, easily grasped reminder of the basics of a healthy diet. It consists of four colored sections, for fruits, vegetables, grains and protein, according to several people who have been briefed on the change. Beside the plate is a smaller circle for dairy, suggesting a glass of low-fat milk or perhaps a yogurt cup.

And WebMD scored an interview with Robert C. Post, PhD, deputy director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, who gave additional hints:

“There will be a ‘how-to’ that will resonate with individuals. That is the behavioral part that is needed. We need to transcend information — ‘here’s what the science says’ — and give people the tools and the opportunities to take action.”

He referred to six how-to messages to guide healthy eating that were released with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, and which I enthusiastically posted when the Guidelines were released (I was disappointed that they weren’t actually part of the Guidelines):

Balancing Calories

• Enjoy your food, but eat less.

• Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase

• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce

• Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose the foods with lower numbers.

• Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

A bit of history:

From 1958 until 1979, the USDA’s food guide was sort of a rectangle illustrating four food groups: Dairy, meat, fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals.  In 1979, USDA introduced a highly controversial design with food groups stacked on top of each other, with the plant-food groups at the top and the animal-food groups underneath (the producers of these foods did not like that).

Beginning in 1980, the USDA conducted an extensive research project to develop a new design—the pyramid—which it released in 1991 and withdrew immediately under pressure from meat producers.

In 1992, after a year of extraordinary controversy (recounted in my book Food Politics), the USDA released its highly controversial Food Guide Pyramid.

Why was it controversial?  The food industry objected that the Pyramid make it look as if you were supposed to eat more foods from the bottom of the pyramid than the top (which, of course, was its point).

Nutritionists objected that it encouraged eating too many servings of grains and, therefore, encouraged obesity.

In 2005, the USDA replaced it with the unobjectionable MyPyramid.  The food industry liked this one because it did not indicate hierarchies in food choices.  Most nutritionists that I know hardly knew what to do with it.  It required going online and playing with a website, and was unteachable in clinic settings.

I thought the 1992 pyramid had a lot going for it, particularly the idea that it’s better to eat some foods than others.  But MyPyramid was a travesty–hopelessly complicated, impossible to teach, and requiring the use of a computer.

Given this situation, the new image is highly likely to be an improvement.  If the new icon keeps the hierarchy, conveys concepts easily, and does not require online access, I will consider it a great step forward.

Fingers crossed.

Details about the release:

The announcement will be Thursday, June 2, 10:30 a.m. EDT. It will be live-streamed at www.usda.gov/live.   All information will be posted at www.cnpp.usda.gov.

I’ll be there.  Stay tuned.

 

 

Balancing Calories 

• Enjoy your food, but eat less.

• Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase

• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce

• Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose the foods with lower numbers.

• Drink water instead of sugary drinks.