May 06, 2005
The new USDA Pyramid has arrived, a politically correct pyramid with no one food group (or lobby group) on the top or bottom. The chart depicts food groups as rays ending at the top of pyramid. There are 6 rays and 5 headings; Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Milk and Meat and Beans. The miniscule sixth unlabelled ray is for oils.
One of the goals for the new pyramid was to discourage consumption of trans fatty acid fats and encourage beneficial fats such as those found in fish and olive oil. Trans fatty fats are vegetable in origin but have been hydrogenated to make them more stable at room temperature for better spreadability such as in margarines, or for better shelf life such as in cookies and other baked and snack foods. Studies show trans fats can increase risk of heart disease.
New dietary guidelines could affect labeling laws and development of school lunch program meal planning. Currently there is no law to force disclosure of trans fats on food labels. A lawsuit by a lawyer in California attempted to ban Oreo cookies from the state because they allegedly posed a serious health threat to children. Foods high in trans fats such as pop tarts, fish sticks, candy, cookies and microwave popcorn are often marketed directly to children. The suit was later dropped.
Going to the new pyramid's website www.mypyramid.com and clicking on oils (note we aren't calling them fats) gives some fairly non-controversial information. We are encouraged to eat about 6 teaspoons of fats daily for adult women, 7 for men (subtract a teaspoon if over 50). Solid fats like butter and lard are discouraged as well as solid plant fats; coconut and palm. The oils specifically mentioned as good are canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, olive oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil. Saturated fats are discouraged and trans fats are verboten.
Some of the language gets fairly technical, reflecting ever more complex labeling requirements for foods. There is a discussion of polyunsaturated (PUFA) and monounsaturated (MUFA) fats. As the government enlightens the public about these distinctions, olive oil producers can more easily promote them.
The USDA has been accused of having a contradictory mission to promote health and at the same time promote special interest farm groups such as the dairy and beef councils. The USDA has revised the pyramid several times as newer information about nutrition becomes available but tends to be conservative about incorporating newer information. The last pyramid was released in 2000. There was controversy at the time that it overemphasized carbohydrates and condemned all fats equally. Competing pyramids have eroded its once widespread acceptance.
A new twist is a runner racing up the side of the pyramid, echoing recommendations to exercise. The USDA pyramid website has an unprecedented number of references to the wisdom of burning calories as well as picking the right type of calories.
For more information: http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/oils.html