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Food Pyramid Gets New Look

"People said, 'The old pyramid was nice, but it doesn't fit me,' " said Eric Hentges, executive director of the USDA Center of Nutrition Policy and Promotion. The new interactive tools, Hentges said, allow users to build personalized pyramids that take into account their age, sex and level of physical activity.

But reaction to the new Food Guidance System was mixed.

Fitness guru Denise Austin leads Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, right, and Undersecretary Eric Bost, left, in an exercise during the unveiling of the MyPyramid interactive food guidance system in Washington. (Manuel Balce Ceneta -- AP)

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"It's positive that what they released can be more personalized," said Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes greater consumption of fruit and vegetables. "And I like the way physical activity is included graphically. But from a negative side, the population most in need doesn't have access to computers, and from a big point of view they missed the opportunity to make a stronger message. . . . It's designed to not call any attention to any negative food group. I hate to say it, but what else would we expect from the USDA?"

The new Food Guidance System includes 12 intake levels, from 1,000 calories per day to 3,200 per day, designed to help consumers find the caloric balance that will help them achieve a healthier weight. The nonspecific "servings" that marked the old pyramid have now been replaced with servings listed in cups, teaspoons and ounces, the kind of common measurements used in every home in the country.

The base of the new pyramid begins on the left with whole grains and moves through a spectrum of plant-based foods, healthful plant-based oils and on to animal-based dairy, lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs. But consumers will need to click on the various colors to find more detail about their particular dietary needs.

It is that kind of extra effort that worries many nutrition experts.

"The new dietary guidelines are the best ever," said Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group. "They're based on the latest science and they provide very strong advice, but it seems like the USDA dodged the difficult political advice once again and didn't clearly communicate what to eat less of. Given that obesity is the biggest health problem facing the country, that is what is most needed to be communicated."

Others, including Alison Kretser, senior director of scientific and nutrition policy for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, said the new pyramid opens the door to more possibilities for food companies and consumers. "We now have a system," Kretser said. "Now it's our turn to promote and communicate it."

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