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The food pyramid: replacing the wheel.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has replaced it. Since 1948, the department has used the "food wheel" to teach American schoolchildren the basis of a healthy diet.

In late April, the government unveiled its new "food pyramid," (fig. 1, below) which emphasizes the importance of grains, fruits, and vegetables. In turn, the pyramid relegates meat, poultry, and fish to the same status as that of dry beans, eggs, and nuts.

The bottom of the pyramid, indicating the highest priority, will come as a surprise to many--six to 11 recommended daily servings of bread, cereal, rice, and pasta. Readers of Medical Update, however, know that we often explain the value of the complex carbohydrates offered by these cereal foods.

At the top of the pyramid are the "no-nos" that make up so much of the modern American diet, but that the government recommends using sparingly. These include salad dressings and oils, cream, butter, margarine, sugars, soft drinks, candies, and sweet desserts that provide calories, but little else of nutritional value.

An interesting adjunct to the food pyramid is a poster-size publication from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health educational agency. Entitled "Nutrition Scoreboard," the poster groups nearly 300 common foods into 11 categories: vegetables, fruits, beverages, dairy, poultry-fish-meat-eggs, grain foods, beans-nuts-seeds, condiments, snacks, desserts, and breakfast cereals. A serving of each is clearly defined, together with its relative nutritional value.

A higher score means the food is more nutritious. Foods are given points for their content of protein, dietary fiber, naturally-occurring sugars and starch, polyunsaturated fat, four vitamins (A, C, riboflavin and niacin), and two minerals (iron and calcium). Points are deducted for total fat content, saturated and monounsaturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars.

At the top of the vegetable list, for example, is fresh spinach, with a straight score of 91--compared to cucumber at the bottom, with a score of 6. The fruit list is particularly interesting--the winner is watermelon, with a total score of 68.

Papaya and cantaloupe come in a close second at 60 each. The "apple a day" that keeps the doctor away? A lowly 23.

In the grain food category, the only surprise to any is the statement heading the list: "Contrary to a widespread myth, starchy grain foods are not fattening."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Benjamin Franklin Literary & Medical Society, Inc.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Medical Update
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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