How to Eat 2005

Remember the food pyramid? Think through the fog of the Atkins pro-protein pro-fat recommendations of the past few years. It had bread and spaghetti at the base, then a layer of fruits and vegetables, next milk, meat, and protein topped with a sprinkling of sugar and fats. Remember? Well you can forget it.

The new "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" was released yesterday in a press conference featuring lame duck secretaries Tommy Thompson, of the Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA's Anne Veneman. Frankly, the new recommendations are pretty good. They're certainly better than the Food Guide Pyramid, which was, in fact, only a triangle. These new guidelines are not about shapes, or thank goodness, about pressure from big business... The Center for Science in the Public Interest calls the recommendations "the most health-oriented" ever produced. And Veneman openly admits that this was the "First time we used a evidence-based approach to reviewing research for the update". Well, um, it's about time.

The guidelines emphasize fruits and vegetables (Five-a-day will no longer cut it. Think nine-a-day.) And made some strong suggestions (if not actual recommendations) on salt, sugar, and transfats. They tell us to choose whole grains, to increase our physical activity, and control our caloric intake.

Tommy T seemed pretty hopeful that the food industry will pick up where the guidelines leave off and create healthier foods. I doubt that's going to happen exactly like that, but it's clear that the big corporations are seeing consumers are paying more attention to ingredients and marketing tactics.

Exhibit one: Kraft Foods. Kraft made a step early yesterday and announced that they would be limiting their advertising of low-nutrition foods to 6 to 11 year olds. They should be applauded for recognizing their responsibility, but also for their marketing savvy for the prophylactic announcement just prior to the dietary guidelines release. They got kudos from both Veneman and Thompson at the press conference. Nice work Kraft. Kellogs' General Mills and Macdonald's can take the heat instead.

Truth is, though, instead of hawking Kool-Aid to kids, they will be pushing sugar-free Kool-Aid made, I understand, with aspartame. I'm just not sure that that is any better.

The second part of Kraft's big announcement yesterday is that they will be highlighting their "better-for-you" foods, such as Triscuits, Shredded Wheat, and Crystal Light by labeling them as such. Again, it's marketing, right? Although, I must admit, in a pinch, I have purchased all three of those products.

All in all, it's good news. Now let's just hope that the next pair of secretaries can put some money where Thompson and Veneman's mouths are.
[by Tamara Holt]