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New Dietary Guidelines Offer Food for Thought

Recent research indicates that Americans must do more to combat weight gain and obesity. That's why the latest dietary guidelines and new food pyramid — MyPyramid — emphasize the important role calorie control and increased physical activity play in living a healthy lifestyle.

Recommended food choices focus on:

  • Fruits (fresh, canned, or frozen).
  • A wide variety of vegetables, including dark green veggies such as broccoli and kale.
  • Low-fat and fat-free calcium-rich foods.
  • Whole grains.
  • A wide variety of lean meats and other protein sources such as beans, peas, nuts, seeds and fish.

MyPyramid also customizes guidelines based on a person's height, weight, age, sex and activity level. It also notes the importance of physical activity in a healthy lifestyle.

The guidelines stress that at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity can help lower your risk for chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and certain cancers.

Beth Winthrop, RD
Beth Winthrop, RD, Chief Dietitian for Southcoast Hospitals said the differences between MyPyramid and previous dietary pyramids are important.

"The explanation of daily requirements in terms of cups and ounces should be helpful to the average person," she said.

The previous pyramid, for example, recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

"As a group, we are not good at determining what a serving is," Winthrop said. "MyPyramid advises most people to eat three cups of vegetables each day. A person can measure a cup. It feels more doable."

Winthrop said that the emphasis on whole grains also pleased her for a variety of reasons.

"Whole grains last longer in your stomach, so you feel full longer while ingesting the same number of calories," she said. "Plus, a high fiber diet can lower blood cholesterol levels, help prevent colon cancer and ward off many digestive diseases."

MyPyramid also provides a number of "free" calories with each recommended food plan. Those calories can be used any way the user likes — by substituting a whole milk product for a low-fat or skim milk one or perhaps indulging in a little treat.

"That 'wiggle room' is important for people," Winthrop said. "It makes the guideline feel less restrictive and allows for slips in portion sizes."

MyPyramid is particularly attractive to the computer savvy because it provides web-based interactive materials, including a system for tracking food intake and physical activity.

Talk to your doctor about setting up an exercise program that is right for you or about a referral to a registered dietitian if you have a disease that makes a healthy diet more important.

MyPyramid can be found at

Click here for more healthy eating tips

Click here for from the U.S. Department of Agriculture

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