Thursday, June 19, 2008

What is the Food Guide Pyramid?

The Food Guide Pyramid is part of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans presented by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. The Guidelines are designed to help Americans choose diets that will meet nutrient requirements, promote health, support active lives, and reduce chronic disease risks.

Most Americans of all ages eat fewer than the recommended number of servings of grain products, vegetables, and fruits, even though consumption of these foods is associated with a substantially lower risk for many chronic diseases, including certain types of cancer.

Here is the recommended breakdown for each day:

The Right Number of Servings for You

The Pyramid gives a range for the number of servings for each group because these will vary by person depending upon age, gender and activity level. You should check with your doctor to be sure which guidelines are right for you.

For example:
  • For older adults, and many inactive women, choosing the minimum suggested number of servings within each food group will provide approximately 1600 calories per day.
  • For children, teenage girls, active women and many inactive men, choosing the mid-range suggested number of servings will provide approximately 2200 calories per day.
  • For women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, active men, teenage boys and athletes, choosing the high-end suggested number of servings will provide the approximately 2800 calories per day.
Make Sense of Serving Sizes
Not only do the number of servings differ for various types of people, but the serving sizes of various foods also differ - even among similar foods.

What Counts as a Serving?
In order to evaluate your nutrition, you need to know how much is enough - or appropriate - to eat. While serving sizes differ widely by type of food, here are some examples to help you make sense of the choices you make. These come from the Food Guide Pyramid and are based on both suggested and usually-consumed portions necessary for adequate nutrient intake.

Grain Products Group (bread, cereal, rice, and pasta)
  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta

Vegetable Group
  • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup of other vegetables -- cooked or chopped raw
  • 3/4 cup of vegetable juice

Fruit Group
  • 1 medium apple, banana, orange
  • 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
  • 3/4 cup of fruit juice

Milk Group (milk, yogurt, and cheese)
  • 1 cup of milk or yogurt
  • 1-1/2 ounces of natural cheese
  • 2 ounces of processed cheese

Meat and Beans Group (meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts)
  • 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish
  • 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans or 1 egg counts as 1 ounce of lean meat.
  • Two tablespoons of peanut butter or 1/3 cup of nuts count as 1 ounce of meat.

Some foods fit into more than one group. Dry beans, peas, and lentils can be counted as servings in either the meat and beans group or the vegetable group. These "cross over" foods can be counted as servings from either one or the other group, but not both.

The serving sizes indicated here differ from what you might see on the Nutrition Facts Label found on many food products, which reflect only portions usually-consumed. Notice that some of the serving sizes may be smaller than what you might usually eat.

Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Fourth Edition, 2005, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Quiz: Do You Need a Multi-vitamin/ Mineral Supplement?

Nutrition experts agree that the Food Guide Pyramid offers a reliable and easy-to-follow plan for healthful eating. Eating the "pyramid way" means choosing the appropriate number of servings and a variety of foods from each of the five Food Guide Pyramid food groups. This is generally the best way to get all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you need. Challenge yourself with the following quiz to rate your eating habits.

On Most Days Do You:

Eat 6 to 11 servings of grains (breads, cereal, rice, pasta, and other grain foods)?
One serving equals one slice of bread, ½ cup of rice or pasta, 1 ounce of cereal, or half a bagel.

Yes - 3 points, No - 0 points

Eat at least 2 servings of fruit?
One serving equals 1 piece of fruit, ½ cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit, or ¾ cup of fruit juice.

Yes - 3 points, No - 0 points

Eat at least 3 servings of vegetables each day?
One serving equals ½ cup of cooked or chopped vegetables, 1 cup of raw, leafy vegetables, or ¾ cup of vegetable juice.

Yes - 3 points, No - 0 points

Generally eat the same foods every day?

Yes - 0 points, No - 3 points

Eat 2 or more servings of dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt each day?
One serving equals 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese.

Yes - 3 points, No - 0 points

Eat 2 to 3 servings of lean meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, or nuts every day?
One serving equals 2 to 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish. One egg, ½ cup of cooked beans, or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter count as 1 ounce of meat.

Yes - 3 points, No - 0 points

Frequently skip meals or miss out on one or more food groups for the entire day?

Yes - 0 points, No - 3 points

  • 15 points or more: Food Guide Pyramid Expert.
    You know how to make wise food choices and get the variety of foods important for a healthy eating plan.

  • 9-12 points: You're on your way…
    You could be getting more nutrients by fine-tuning your food selections. For example, if you fall short in the grains group, try including at least one more serving of grains daily.

  • 0-6 points: Keep trying!
    By making small changes, you can gradually improve your eating pattern. Review the Food Guide Pyramid guidelines. Focus on one food group at a time, and aim to eat the minimum number of servings for that group each day. And while food is the best way to obtain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, you may benefit from a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement if you are unable to eat from all the food groups.

    Whether you are a Food Guide Pyramid expert or need to brush up on your nutrition "know-how," the more you learn about choosing a healthful eating plan, the easier it is to do. By selecting a wide variety of foods from each of the five food groups in the Food Guide Pyramid, you can get all the nutrients your body needs.

    However, even people with the best intentions sometimes fall short on their nutrient intake. For some people a vitamin/mineral supplement offers benefits that are both safe and effective. A vitamin/mineral supplement may help when:
    • Your hectic lifestyle frequently keeps you from eating the recommended number of servings from the food guide pyramid,
    • You are on a very low-calorie weight loss diet,
    • You are elderly and not eating as much as you should,
    • You are a strict vegetarian,
    • You can't drink milk or eat cheese and yogurt, or
    • You are a woman of child-bearing age who doesn't get enough folate from fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains.
    A registered dietitian can help you evaluate your eating pattern and determine whether a vitamin/mineral supplement is right for you.

    Source: The American Dietetic Asociation, © ADAF 2008.

  • Ask the Expert: I heard that women shouldn’t get too much iron

    Q. I heard that women shouldn’t get too much iron or it can screw up their system. What happens?

    A. If one is diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia or does not eat enough iron-containing foods, an iron supplement or a multivitamin that contains iron may be essential. However, too much iron is not good for anyone, male or female. Iron can be irritating and destructive to the gastrointestinal tract, especially if too much is taken at once and the body’s ability to remove the free radicals iron generates is overwhelmed. Everyone absorbs iron differently for several reasons. The amount of iron absorbed is dependent on the presence or absence of other nutrients such as vitamin E, phosphorus, copper, and several amino acids. Alcoholics may absorb more iron from their food since alcoholism can cause liver disease which can reduce the metabolism of iron. People who regularly drink alcohol with their meals also may have higher iron levels since alcohol increases the absorption of iron. Drinking orange juice with meals may also increase the amount of iron absorbed. Iron toxicity is very serious and can result in diarrhea, low body temperature, shock, serious damage to vital organs, and death. In fact, since iron tablets can resemble candy and are found in many homes, iron overdose is the most frequent cause of childhood drug poisoning. For adults, iron consumption of greater than 20mg per kilogram body weight will lead to signs of iron toxicity. If more than 60mg per kilogram of iron is taken, it may prove fatal. Before starting an iron supplement, one should always consult his or her physician. If one is taking a multivitamin that contains iron, it is best to inform one’s physician of this fact. Most multivitamins that have iron contain relatively low doses, but since everyone absorbs iron differently, it makes sense to let one’s doctor know.

    Q. When should I take my calcium supplements and how many MG at once?

    A. Men and pre-menopausal women should ingest 1000mg of dietary calcium a day. Post-menopausal women should have 1500mg of calcium a day and they should be sure to do some form of weight-bearing exercise regularly as well. If a post-menopausal woman is at risk for osteoporosis, she should consult her doctor about the use of hormone supplementation to complement her calcium and exercise regimen. No matter how many total milligrams of calcium you are taking, it is a good idea to divide up the dose and take it along with two or three meals daily. Dividing the doses can alleviate any accompanying constipation and taking the supplement with meals ensures maximum absorption and utilization by the body. For example, if a post-menopausal woman needed to take 1500mg of calcium a day, she could take 500mg with each of her three daily meals.

    Ask the Expert: As a vegetarian, am I getting the right vitamins and minerals?

    Q. As a vegetarian, am I getting the right vitamins and minerals?

    A. First of all, it is important to define what a “vegetarian diet” actually is. Are you eating a vegan diet, which excludes all animal products including dairy and eggs? Or are you on a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet which does incorporate dairy products and eggs while excluding meat, fish, and poultry? It is important to realize what is missing from your diet before deciding on what nutritional supplements to take. The American Dietetic Association recommends eating a wide variety of foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts, and dairy and eggs (the last two only if not on a vegan diet). In terms of possible vitamin deficiencies, the iron from plant sources is more poorly absorbed than that found in animal products, but the higher levels of vitamin C found in vegetarian diets may help increase iron absorption. Studies have shown that iron deficient anemia is not more common in vegetarians, so iron supplementation is probably not necessary.

    Vegetarians should be sure to include foods rich in vitamin B12 (fortified cereals or soymilk, meat substitutes, or nutritional yeast) or take it as a supplement, since studies have shown that they have low blood levels of this vitamin. There is even a case of a 33 year old man who had been on a strict vegan diet since the age of 20 who presented with severe nerve damage in both eyes due to vitamin B12 deficiency. He had never taken any supplements. Even after he was given vitamin B12, the nerve damage did not improve. Therefore, it is important to be conscious of the need for adequate dietary or supplemental vitamin B12 intake if one is on a vegetarian diet, especially as one ages when absorption of this vitamin decreases.

    If one does not drink milk, then vitamin D levels may also be deficient, as fortified milk is the most common dietary source of vitamin D. As long as there is adequate strong sunlight exposure (at least 15 minutes of sunlight on the upper extremities and face every day), supplementation should not be necessary. However, there are vegetarian products such as soymilk that are fortified with vitamin D that can be consumed if sunlight exposure is inadequate. Calcium is a mineral that usually is not deficient in vegetarians who eat calcium rich dairy products or calcium-rich vegetarian foods (i.e. tofu, beans, green, leafy vegetables). Vegans should make sure they get the daily recommended requirements for calcium from their diets, and if they do not, they should take a calcium supplement. The other two nutrients that the American Dietetic Association advises vegetarians to be aware of are zinc and linolenic acid. Zinc levels in vegetarians tend to be lower than in non-vegetarians, so it is a good idea to make sure to eat enough zinc-rich foods (whole grains, legumes, corn, tofu) to meet or exceed the daily recommended requirement. Linolenic acid is an essential fatty acid found in fish or eggs. If these foods are not consumed, it is important to include other linolenic acid-containing foods in the diet, such as walnuts, flaxseed oil, soybeans, and canola oil. In general, a healthy vegetarian diet should include up to three servings of calcium rich foods, 2-3 servings of legumes, nuts, eggs, and meat substitutes, 3-5 servings of vegetables, 2-4 servings of fruit, 6-11 servings of grains, and sparing use of fats, oils, and sweets.

    Q. Is soy milk a good source of calcium?

    A. When choosing a brand of soy milk, it is important to select one that is calcium (and ideally Vitamin D) fortified, as soy milk itself is not rich in calcium. However, even when fortified, soy milk contains less calcium than regular milk. Eight ounces of skim milk contain 300 mg of calcium, while eight ounces of calcium fortified soy milk contains about 200 mg. Unfortified soy milk can contain much less calcium. Another soy product, tofu, usually has more calcium than soy milk depending on how it is processed. One method of making tofu involves the addition of calcium sulfate to the processed soy beans in order to solidify the bean mixture. One should look for calcium sulfate in the ingredient list in order to buy tofu with the highest calcium content. If a person wants to replace cow’s milk with soy milk, it is important to consume more to make up for the reduced calcium content, or add other calcium-rich foods or calcium supplements to the daily diet. In 1997, the Institute of Medicine released new recommendations for recommended calcium intake: 1300 mg for people aged 9-18 years and pregnant women under 19 years of age, 1000 mg for those aged 19-50 years including pregnant women over 19, and 1200 mg for those over fifty-one. These recommendations should be kept in mind when one seeks to replace dairy products with other foods, in order to ensure adequate calcium intake on a new diet.

    Ask the Expert: How much Vitamin C is too much?

    Q. How much Vitamin C is too much?

    A. Vitamin C is an important molecule. It is involved in the synthesis of collagen (an important structural material), aids in wound healing and drug metabolism, increases the absorption of iron, and may enhance the immune system. Usually, people can tolerate large doses of Vitamin C without any significant adverse effects. Signs of ingesting too much vitamin C can include stomach irritation, gas, and diarrhea. People who might want to take more vitamin C than the recommended daily allowance are the elderly, diabetics, smokers, and alcoholics. This is because the elderly and alcoholics usually have poor diets lacking adequate amounts of vitamin C. Diabetics, because of their low insulin levels, may have poor vitamin C transporting capabilities to the cells that require vitamin C. Smoking adversely affects the metabolism of vitamin C in the body, leading to lower levels of vitamin C in the blood. The RDA for adults is 60 mg/day. The most health benefits may be derived from doses of 150-200 mg/day. Megadoses of 1000-2000 mg/day may lead to side effects, so in general it is best to stay below 1000mg/day. Vitamin C toxicity is very rare.

    Q. If I want to take Vitamin C to fight a cold, when should I start taking It?

    A. There have been no recent long term studies that definitively prove that megadoses of vitamin C lessen cold intensity or prevent colds altogether. But it is accepted that vitamin C enhances the actions of the immune system, helping to fight off foreign invaders and infectious diseases. It stimulates the action and production of antibodies and other immune cells. Studies have shown that adults who received 1000 mg of vitamin C a day showed greater immune cell action. A recent study done in December of 1999 demonstrated a modest benefit in reducing cold duration from ingesting high doses of vitamin C (1000mg), but no evidence that vitamin C prevented colds was seen. Therefore, it would be reasonable to take a supplement that provides the recommended daily allowance every day, and when cold symptoms start, one could increase vitamin C intake to 1000mg a day for the duration of the cold.

    Q. I live in a climate that is very cold in the winter and I don’t get outside often. Should I supplement my vitamins in the winter to counteract the lack of sunshine I get?

    A. Vitamin D is am important vitamin that is involved in helping the body absorb and effectively utilize calcium and phosphorus and may be important in lowering the incidence of certain types of cancer, although more studies are necessary to determine its efficacy in cancer prevention. Most vitamin D is synthesized by the skin when it is exposed to adequate levels of sunshine. The ability of the skin to manufacture vitamin D is dependent on several factors: age, geography, use of sunscreen, and natural skin pigmentation. People who are older than 50 usually do not produce enough vitamin D from sunlight. These people might want to take a supplement (400 international units) to ensure they get enough vitamin D. In addition, those who live in northern latitudes who are exposed to the sun for less than 15 minutes a day may also benefit from a supplement. The use of sunscreen also prevents sunlight from reaching the skin, reducing the amount of vitamin D that is synthesized. People with increased skin pigmentation also may not synthesize as much vitamin D as their lighter-skinned counterparts. Along with drinking vitamin D enriched milk, a person who lives in the northern latitudes where the sunlight is not as intense would most likely benefit from at least 400 iu of vitamin D as a daily supplement. No one should take more than 2000 iu of vitamin D a day as that could lead to toxicity, with symptoms such as such as nausea, anorexia, and possible damage to the kidneys and cardiovascular system. Good dietary sources of vitamin D include eggs, liver, salmon, and tuna. Make sure to take in adequate calcium along with the vitamin D supplement. With no complicating circumstances, the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D is 200 international units for people 1-50 years old, 400 IU for those between 51 and 70, and 600 IU for those over 70 years of age.

    Q. Why does everyone say that getting vitamins from real foods is better than from pills? Don’t the ingredients in the pills come from natural sources?

    A. Bodily processes are complex. Every time food is ingested, receptors in the digestive tract signal the release of enzymes that act to effectively absorb and utilize the nutrients. Some of these receptors react to fat, some to carbohydrates or to protein; in short, all these receptors spring into action when a well-balanced meal is consumed. Taking vitamins can be important, but the body most effectively utilizes nutrients when they are contained in food products, since that is when the full digestive enzymatic powers of the gastrointestinal system are put into play. In addition, most vitamins and minerals are digested and used more effectively in combination with other nutrients, and some supplements may not contain the variety of nutrients that food products do. Finally, even with the best intentions, it is difficult to remember to take vitamin pills every morning, but one usually has no problem remembering to eat everyday. Thus, eating a well-balanced diet is a more reliable way of ensuring one’s nutritional needs are met daily. It is a good idea to talk with one’s doctor about the need for vitamin or mineral supplementation, especially if one is anemic, has absorption problems, is pregnant, or has other medical conditions.

    Ask the Expert: What is the difference between vitamins and herbs?

    Q. What is the difference between vitamins and herbs?

    A. Vitamins are a group of molecules that are required by the body in order to carry out normal growth and essential metabolic functions. There are two kinds of vitamins – water-soluble vitamins which include niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, biotin, vitamin C, pantothenic acid, and folate. Then there are fat-soluble vitamins which are vitamins A, D, E, and K. Deficiencies in one or more vitamins can result in deficiency conditions, such as inflammation and damage to the nerves as seen in severe cases of vitamin B12 deficiency.

    Herbs, on the other hand, are a class of vascular plants that do not produce woody stems. They can include ferns, club mosses, and horsetails as well. None are essential to carry out bodily processes like vitamins are. Some herbs are edible, can be used as food or seasoning, and may have medicinal properties. Examples of herbs that are currently being studied for their potential health benefits are St. John’s Wort, ginseng, nettles, rosemary, and valerian.

    Ask the Expert: Multi-Vitamins

    Q. What if my stomach can not handle iron? Can I find a multi-vitamin without iron?

    A. It takes some patience and research to find a multivitamin that meets your nutritional needs. But, one should feel confident that there is a supplement out there that will be right for you. There are many multivitamins that do not contain iron – read labels! It is also possible to research brands on health food websites that sell different brands of vitamin and mineral supplements. Many of these sites list the exact ingredients of each supplement they sell. Usually health food store employees are very knowledgeable about their products and can recommend an iron-free supplement. It usually only takes a couple of extra minutes in the grocery store or health food store to read labels and find a multivitamin that does not contain any iron.