Confusion 101: Taking sides on food pyramid

The new and revised Department of Agriculture food pyramid is out, and this is my first chance to comment on it. I hope you’ve seen it by now. It’s triangular in shape, and mystifying in nature. Still. It’s got stairs and a person running up one side, and vertical color bands of varying width inside, and a complimentary Web site,, to help you sort through the details in an interactive way.

Is it an improvement over the 1992 pyramid? Some experts say yes, some say no, and some are still running up and down the outside of the pyramid, trying to figure it all out. It’s nice that it comes in 12 versions, taking into account a person’s activity level and caloric need, and I’m very happy to see the importance of regular physical activity stressed and highlighted. Finally. Yippee.

But what I really care about is motivating people to embrace a healthier, happier lifestyle. And I don’t see that happening with this pyramid. It is not a meaningful tool for change. It’s too confusing, too controversial; sorting through all the pros and cons gives me a headache, so I can only imagine how Mr. and Ms. Average American are dealing with it.

They aren’t, that’s what I think. With the last food pyramid, in 1992, research showed that while 80 percent of people recognized the pyramid, only 2 to 4 percent ate according to its principles. It was a failure then and there is no reason to think the newest version will be any more successful.

I see the whole country slowly moving toward a pyramid shape. Our brains are getting smaller and our bottoms are spreading. Obesity is the fastest growing sport in America and this new pyramid won’t change that. What will? Individual choice and responsibility. The government can’t and won’t fix what’s gone wrong with the American diet. We eat too much of the wrong food. We exercise too little. I get bent out of shape just thinking about it.

There are a zillion good reasons to exercise, and getting through menopause is one of them. For many women, menopause not only marks the end of their reproductive years, it means the beginning of a whole array of unwanted symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, anxiety, depression and joint pain.

Aerobic exercise - a minimum of 30 minutes a day, four to six times a week - can help with all of those and more. Aerobic exercise, like running, walking, swimming, biking, also reduces a woman’s risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and weight gain, three more problems associated with menopause.

So if you’re a woman of a certain age, feeling a certain rage, or just feeling tired and lethargic, please start moving. Join a club, hire a trainer or find a motivated friend and commit yourself to a fun and fulfilling exercise routine. It should be one that includes weight-bearing aerobic activity and strength-training, too.

Getting kids to eat their vegetables has never been easy, but now there’s a growing realization of what might help. Get them into the garden. Researchers at Texas A & M University found that 4- and 5-year-olds who spent about 30 minutes a week for eight weeks planting and tending a garden were much more likely to taste and even enjoy vegetables than kids who didn’t have that experience. Tending a garden also helped the kids learn patience and a love for nature.

Here are a few more tips to help you cultivate your kids’ interest in gardening:

  • If you don’t have a yard, try container gardening. You can grow broccoli, beans, carrots, lettuce and peppers in one- or two-gallon containers. Brussels sprouts and cabbage require 10-gallon containers, but don’t count on your child eating either.
  • Buy kid-sized tools, built for little hands and bodies.
  • Don’t use pesticides.