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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

How Do I Eat? Let me count the ways....'Food Icon' vs. 'MyPyramid' vs. 'Food Guide Pyramid'

I'm quite excited to see what the new 'Food Icon' is going to look like.

I, personally, have never been able to use the 'MyPyramid' or the 'Food Guide Pyramind' that the USDA have produced for teaching or for explaining, in PRACTICAL terms how to eat healthy. BUT, these 'tools' WERE handy to give an IDEA to people that variety and basic foods from all the food groups were important as they made decisions about WHAT to eat. It was in discerning HOW TO EAT where these guides fell short. They were glossy and colorful and nice to handout as a generic 'start' as I BEGAN my education and counsel, but I ALWAYS had to provide additional guidelines on specifics -- how many servings, the size of servings, how to shop and cook, how to decide what foods fit into what food groups -- what was highest in protein, what was highest in carbohydrates, what DID contain enough fat to deem it a 'fat', what to absolutely limit to 'x' number of servings per day or per week and, certainly, depending on age, sex, baseline, and health preclusions, what foods to eat for BEST tolerance, digestion, absorption, and SPECIFIC needs and requirements for optimal nutrient yields. And, all that doesn't even get into how to help people eat healthy keeping in mind their cultural and personal preferences, their budget, their emotional and historical associations with foods, and any other foods/eating issues they might have!

In all fairness, I have not been able to use ANY of the food guide charts and icons produced from ANY COUNTRY I've lived and worked in, to suit my purposes of educating, illustrating, and ensuring practical understanding and behavior change for the public and clients I've worked with in these countries. It's just VERY DIFFICULT to come up with something -- ONE CHART or GUIDE or LIST OF RECOMMENDATIONS -- that people can go home with and refer to to make them know EXACTLY what to eat and how -- the day they leave you, the day afterward, and every day, thereafter. People need clear instructions and, THEN -- evaluation of understanding, monitoring, updating and revision of guidance depending on progress (or lack of), and a 'tool' that thy will be able to refer to just as a 'double-check' -- not so much as a definitive sheet of information that they have to rigidly adhere to. Actually, the BEST instructions/ sheets that we can give folks are the ones that they won't need once they've mastered healthy eating pertinent to their present needs and their EVOLVING needs.

But, I never expected one 'tool' to be able to do it all. That's why I'M THERE -- to translate the science of nutrition into the foods you actually need to end up eating to get the nutrients you need for OPTIMAL HEALTH. Of course, if an instructional tool can stand on its own and yield as much helpful information and guidance as possible, then GREAT. But, I hardly think the new 'Food Icon' will be all that. Maybe I'm wrong. I'll let you know after I see it.

Meanwhile, I don't think you can go wrong by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables; low-fat sources of protein like chicken, fish,lean meats; reduced-fat cheese and dairy; a few eggs per week; whole-grains, such as brown bread, rice, pasta; and fats that are high sources of essential fatty acids and omega-3-fatty acids, like polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated oils and foods, such as avocados, fatty fish, nuts. And, ALSO, use common sense when consuming higher kcalorie foods such as carbohydrates and fats and WATCH PORTION SIZES, EVEN IF THEY ARE HEALTHY FOODS! And, it goes without saying that fried, refined, sugary, and junk foods (you KNOW EXACTLY what they are!!!) need to absolutely be limited to occasional treats.

I know that the folks at the USDA, the CDC, and all the other food and nutrition research and regulatory agencies and institutions work very hard at generating what they want to be helpful, practical, and useful guides and tools. I'm confident the new 'Food Icon' will represent the fruits (and vegetables -- sorry! can't forget those!) of all their earnest, best-intended efforts.



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