Using the 2005 FDA Guidelines

Will you reformulate or repackage your food products to take advantage of the new recommendations?

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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The long-awaited Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans was published Jan. 12 by the Dept. of Agriculture and the Dept. of Health and Human Services. I think it’s one of those omnibus efforts that, in an effort to be comprehensive and authoritative, lacks the clarity that comes with simplicity, and it probably entirely pleases no one.

But it’s out and it’s a Herculean effort. The new guidelines call for lots more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars and salt. Perhaps most remarkable is the call for all Americans to exercise more.

The suggestions for fruits and vegetables, for instance, range from four servings (2 cups) for small children to 13 (yes, 13!) servings (6.5 cups) for active young men. How can anyone get that many fruits and vegetables in one day? I don’t think I eat 13 servings of all foods in a day.

But this wide disparity highlights two of the key changes in this year’s guidelines. One is that serving sizes have been a bone of contention in the past – USDA people tell me consumers considered a serving to be whatever fit on their plate. And because the density of food varies so much, it’s difficult to standardize a serving of beef against a serving of a leafy vegetable like spinach. Nevertheless, USDA has tried to move toward kitchen measurements. So for most foods, but certainly not all, a serving is a half cup.

The other issue is the differences in caloric intake needs and metabolism. A high school senior with baseball practice every day burns a lot more calories than a late-40s magazine editor. The result, for these guidelines, is 12 caloric levels, from 1,000 calories per day to 3,200.

One size doesn’t fit all. But it sure makes things complex.

So what are you going to do with the guidelines?

Every big change poses both challenge and opportunity. I’m sure the challenges and problems were long ago identified by the more astute food manufacturers, who already are driving trans fats out of their product formulations, for example.

General Mills undoubtedly saw these changes coming when it began reformulating all its cereals late last year to use whole grains. Its promotional material quoted former FDA Commissioner David Kessler as saying, “This improvement by General Mills will benefit Americans and could signal the most comprehensive improvement in the nation’s food supply since the government began mandatory fortification of grains in the 1940s.” That’s lofty praise. The result will be the entire General Mills portfolio of Big G breakfast cereals will now be either “good” or “excellent” sources of whole grains. And it’s not just happening to the easy ones, such as Wheaties and Total, but all the way down to Trix and Lucky Charms.

Sara Lee, which has been pumping up the whole grains and fiber in its bakery products, launched www.breadrules.com the day the guidelines came out. A few weeks earlier, Sara Lee Heart Healthy Plus breads debuted, offering whole-grain breads that also are fortified with fiber, folic acid, calcium and vitamin D.

What are your opportunities?

Think in terms of servings. Say your frozen dinner has 3 oz. (in volume) of peas. Throw in another ounce and you’re giving your customers a full serving of this vegetable.

Don’t forget foods processed into new forms that render them unrecognizable or invisible. Put enough tomato sauce on a pasta entrée and you’ve given consumers another vegetable.

There are numerous other ways to work out the bad stuff and work in more of the good.

Most importantly, tell consumers what you’re doing. Explain the changes. USDA and HHS can’t perform the education alone. Obesity is a big and complex issue, and maybe that’s why the solution, these guidelines, looks a little complex. Eventually, consumers will catch on. Eventually, when confronted with the choice between someone else’s frozen dinner with an indeterminate amount of peas and yours that clearly states there are two servings of this vegetable, they’ll choose yours.

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