SUNDAY, Jan. 28, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- The new and improved U.S. Department of Agriculture's food guide pyramid -- called MyPyramid -- is helping Americans, young and old, to better understand how to eat healthfully, dietitians say.
The new pyramid features vertical bands (rather than the old horizontal pyramid sections) in six different colors to represent different food groups and types. Orange equals grains, green is for vegetables, red is for fruits, blue represents dairy, purple is meat and beans, and yellow stands for oils.
Along the side of the pyramid, a drawing depicts a person climbing a set of steps to match the new slogan "Steps to a Healthier You," which is meant to encourage physical activity as essential.
Perhaps the most important feature of the new pyramid, unveiled in 2005: By plugging in certain personal information, such as age, gender, and levels of physical activity, you can get a nutrition plan that's tailored for you.
"It's more personalized," Marisa Moore, an Atlanta registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, said of the new pyramid and its Web site (www.MyPyramid.gov), which replaced the old, once-size-fits-all pyramid, in use since 1992.
And, the USDA is appealing not only to adults but to kids to clean up their diets, posting kid-friendly materials on the new pyramid Web site to help parents or teachers help their children eat more healthfully.
In general, the guidelines recommend consuming two cups of fruits and two-and-a-half cups of vegetables daily, three ounces of whole grain foods, three cups of low-fat or nonfat milk or other dairy foods, and about five ounces of meat and beans for protein.
Oils should be used sparingly, and the personalized guidelines offer specific maximum amounts -- say, five teaspoons for some people. The pyramid also suggests a maximum number of calories from "extras" such as sugars and solid fats -- for instance, 195 calories a day.
Noralyn Mills, a Baltimore dietitian and another American Dietetic Association spokeswoman, called the new guidelines more realistic than the old ones. And, they're more user-friendly, she added, which was the goal of making the changes from the old pyramid.
One important change, although it sounds small, is to list measurements in cups, instead of servings. "People have an idea what a cup is, they can visualize a cup," Mills said, adding, "I think there is a lot more usage of the pyramid than before."
The new pyramid guidelines are meant to incorporate the latest in nutritional science, according to the USDA.
"It's a little more motivational for people," said Moore. Besides alerting people that their diet should include specific amounts of grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, meats and beans, each personalized pyramid tells them how many "discretionary calories" they can eat per day for fats and sugars and oils.
"You are able to meet all your nutritional needs without the guesswork," said Moore, although she advises those with diabetes and other health conditions to seek the help of a registered dietitian to help them personalize their menus even more.
Visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture for more on MyPyramid.