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Food Groups Jockey for Pyramid Slot

Posted - Feb. 16, 2004 at 6:40 a.m.



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When officials announced the outdated food pyramid would be revised, the International Bottled Water Association sprang to life. Water, it declared, deserved a spot in the ubiquitous triangle.

Essential to life and free of sugar, caffeine and calories, water also received votes from a few citizens and nutritionists. The votes came during a two-month window the public had to mail in comments on proposed changes to the pyramid.

But the bottled-water industry isn't the only one thirsting for a treasured position in the pyramid.

The public comment period on dietary intake guidelines included testimonials from walnut growers, touting walnuts as a rich source of an essential fatty acid. Vegetarians advocated for tofu and their own meatless, dairy-free food pyramid. And the indignant barley industry - feeling ignored by the cereal industry - complained that barley is more than just a tasty soup ingredient.

Even the Snack Food Association threw in its two cents, stressing the need for portion awareness, exercise and a calorie-specific pyramid.

Overall, the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion received 1,101 public comments regarding the new Food Guide Pyramid and the revision of Dietary Guidelines for Americans from September through Oct. 27, 2003. The final version is expected to be ready for 2005.

The handwritten and typed letters showed the impossible task of making everyone happy. Even those included in the current pyramid want to join a different team.

Legumes, based on their nutrient profile as high in starch, fiber and protein, could be located in the meat/protein group, the vegetable group or the grain group, according to the Society for Nutrition Education.

But the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council is unhappy with the current grouping with meat/poultry and fish. Speaking on behalf of peas and lentils, the council said the legumes would rather be with the vegetables.

That's because, wrote Peter Klaiber, the group's director of marketing, "legumes are similar in a number of ways: low in calories, no cholesterol or saturated fat, very low in fat and high in fiber."

Several respondents wanted to eliminate the shape of the food pyramid altogether. One writer proposed a bull's eye, with oils and nuts in the center ring. Trans fats, including frosting and croissants, were relegated to the outer ring.

Then there was the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the trade association for supplement manufacturers. Supplements are not considered a food or a drug by the federal government. Nonetheless, the council proposed sticking a flag that proclaims "supplements" on the top of the food pyramid.

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(c) 2004, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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