My Pyramid:

Not Just a New Look at an Old Concept

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By Marie Dufour, R.D.

In the spring of 2005, the USDA released its updated version of the old food guide pyramid originally released in 1992. More than an updated look, this new pyramid is a new concept of what and how much Americans need to eat in order to live longer, healthier lives. "My Pyramid" entices people to make modest improvements to their diets and to incorporate regular physical activity into their lives.

The pyramid includes six unique features:

1. Personalization, demonstrated by the My Pyramid Web site. People can log on MyPyramid.gov, enter their age, gender, and activity level, and the website offers personalized recommendations of the kinds and amounts of food to eat each day.

2. Gradual improvement, encouraged by the slogan, "Steps to a Healthier You." It suggests that individuals can benefit from taking small steps to improve their diets and lifestyles each day.

3. Physical activity, represented by the steps and the person climbing them (see logo below), as a reminder of the importance of daily physical activity.
4. Variety, symbolized by the six color bands representing the five food groups and oils. Foods from all groups are needed each day for good health.

5. Moderation, represented by the narrowing of each food group from bottom to top. The wider base stands for foods with little or no solid fats, added sugars, or caloric sweeteners. These should be selected more often to get the most nutrition from calories consumed.

6. Proportionality, shown by the different widths of the food group bands. The widths suggest how much food a person should choose from each group. The widths are just a general guide, not exact proportions.

The concept of energy balance is central to My Pyramid and key to weight maintenance. My Pyramid assigns individuals to a calorie level based on gender, age, and activity level. The goal is to match the energy intake to the energy output. Gender makes a difference in caloric needs. For example, a 52-year-old active male will need 2800 calories a day, but his female counterpart will need only 2200 calories for the same activity level. Activity level also makes a difference in caloric needs: a 52 year old male needs 2200 calories if sedentary, 2400 calories if moderately active, and 2800 calories if active. Therefore, when considering an energy level, it is most important to consider age, gender, and activity level. Energy levels are accessible at http://www.mypyramid.gov/downloads/MyPyramid_Calorie_Levels.pdf.

My Pyramid suggests 12 different food intake patterns for 12 different energy levels. Each food pattern specifies recommendations for the 5 basic food groups, their subgroups, and oils. In addition, a vegetable subgroup guide includes weekly recommendations for intake of dark green, orange, starchy vegetables, and legumes. For example, a 52 year old moderately active female with a recommended intake of 2000 calories would follow the following daily food pattern: 2 cups of fruits, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 6 oz-equivalent of grains, 5 1/2 oz equivalent of meats and beans, 3 cups of milk, 6 tsp (2Tbsp) of oils. Food patterns can be accessed at http://www.mypyramid.gov/downloads/MyPyramid_Food_Intake_Patterns.pdf.

To help People plan their meals, My Pyramid offers weekly menu samples that provide the recommended amounts of nutrients and foods from each food group. These menus can be accessed at http://www.mypyramid.gov/downloads/sample_menu.pdf.

More than menus, these can be considered as recipes for good health, with each meal outlined by ingredient and serving as a basis for a shopping list. These new recommendations can support PXE patients in their quest for wellness and healthy lifestyles. The website is full of useful information and downloadable meal plans and food and activity records. But PXE patients should note that My Pyramid calls for 3 servings of low-fat or non-fat dairy per day. In general, 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1 ounce of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese can be considered as 1 cup from the milk group. Each contains about 300 mg of calcium. Other non-dairy sources of calcium are part of the general recommendations, such as spinach (146 mg calcium in 1 cup) or instant oatmeal (100 mg calcium per packet). Calcium restriction is common in PXE patients and the response to calcium intake seems to vary among individuals. The human body normally keeps a tight control of circulating calcium and several hormones regulate calcium levels. When calcium levels drop below normal levels, parathyroid hormone stimulates the kidneys to re-absorb calcium and signals the bones to leech calcium out; at the same time, calcitriol accelerates absorption of calcium from GI tract. The net danger of under-consumption of calcium is osteoporosis. As always, PXE patients should track their response to calcium intake and discuss with their physicians the options available to balance the danger of over-consumption of calcium with the risk of osteoporosis.

My Pyramid is a helpful tool for Americans in search of dietary information, user-friendly, with downloadable meal plans, trackers for food intake and physical activity: your very-own dietitian and personal trainer rolled into one neat website!