MyPyramid has a mixed response from experts

MyPyramid, the updated version of the U.S. Agriculture Department's, (USDA), familiar food pyramid, is getting a mixed response from nutritionists and other experts, who say some consumers might find the new model even more confusing than the old one.

The MyPyramid has brightly coloured bands running vertically from the tip to the base like a rainbow, with each colour representing a different food group. The widest band, orange, stands for grains, which consumers are supposed to eat in relative abundance. The next widest bands are green and blue, representing vegetables and milk products, followed in order by fruits (red) and meat and beans (purple). The narrowest band, yellow, represents oils, which consumers are supposed to eat sparingly.

The bands which are widest at the bottom, symbolise nutritious foods with little or no solid fats or added sugars. These foods should be selected more often, on the left side, a stylized stick figure represents physical activity climbing up pyramid steps.

As there are no pictures or text explaining the triangle consumers can be forgiven for initially finding the graphics puzzling.

Sonja Tuitele of Wild Oats Markets, a chain of natural food supermarkets says people are going to be very confused, and feels the pyramid will be difficult for people to initially understand.

The food pyramid which reflects the government's comprehensive new dietary guidelines were released in January and includes 23 recommendations.

In an attempt to make the advice less complicated the USDA has produced a simplified version that has only five words of text: "Steps to a Healthier You."

Barbara Rolls, a Penn State University nutritionist, says graphics contain no specific information and are not very helpful.

Margo Wootan of the consumer group Centre for Science in the Public Interest, says the USDA appears to have bent over backwards to avoid upsetting any particular commodity group or food company by not showing any foods that Americans should eat less of.

Other experts were more positive and have praised the simplicity of the design.

Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Wellness Institute says the guide "doesn't try to jam everything into a graphic that people don't understand".

General Foods and many other food companies are embracing MyPyramid, General Foods plans to put the graphic on 100 million boxes of Big G cereal brands.

The old food pyramid which was introduced in 1992, included the recommended number of daily servings for each food group and eighty percent of Americans still recognize it, but critics complained the design was outdated and confusing, and didn't relate to varying activity levels.

The USDA tested several designs, including pyramids and other shapes. They have produced a poster-size version of MyPyramid which contains more detailed information.

The government has been criticised because the firm Porter Novelli, which has food companies as clients, helped create MyPyramid, but both the firm and the government have stated that the MyPyramid work was handled separately and there was no conflict of interest.

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