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BIG BROTHER GIVES US A NEW PYRAMID TO EXPLORE

Will you make room for the new USDA Food Pyramid on your refrigerator? American businesses never ignore a marketing opportunity, so magnetized versions should be available soon.

More importantly -- will you make room for the pyramid in your lifestyle -- in the recipes you follow, in the way you plan your meals?

That's the big question, really. Never mind the pretty pictures; never mind the grumblings from the food people who are miffed because their product didn't get as much attention as they wanted. (The amount of lobbying that accompanies the construction of dietary guidelines sometimes equals the lobbying of the NRA.)

The thing is: Will people pay attention? When the USDA unveiled its graphic last week to illustrate their "new" food guidelines much was made of the fact that the thing looked different, that the colored bands representing food categories ran vertically instead of horizontally; that a cute little stick figure was climbing stairs on the outside to drive home the importance of exercise.

But unless you've been living in a cave somewhere (or have buried yourself in your favorite fast food dispensary), it was hardly stop-the-press news. The pyramid simply illustrated the facts that we have known for -- what? -- the last 25 years or so.

True, some foods have been emphasized this time round. Americans should consume more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and less sugar and fat (especially the new villain trans fat).

They should watch their calorie intakes and get off the couch. And sure, it's terrific that USDA describes the recommendations in terms of cups and ounces instead of the old confusing "serving sizes." And, yes, good that they personalized the pyramid 12 different ways to tailor the suggestions to specific age groups and activity levels. (Go to mypyramid.gov to see what we mean.)

But my point is that most of us who care at all already know these things deep down in our heart of hearts. And that many of us aren't acting on the knowledge.

What we need is to drive the facts home.

Can it be done? Some experts say yes. Old friend and registered dietitian Dr. Keith-Thomas Ayoob, associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said on the phone that he is optimistic. He has a new book to be called "The Uncle Sam Diet" to be published by St. Martin Press on -- when else? -- July 4.

Ayoob makes much of what he calls the "trickle-down effect. The guidelines start to get reflected in schools and hospitals, and you'll see some positive trends," he said.

He could be right. America's food processors are certainly climbing on the bandwagon. Adding more whole grains to breakfast cereals, reducing trans fat content of various foods. But they won't keep doing it unless it pays.

Bottom line: The proof of the pudding is in the eating -- whoops, bad metaphor in this case.

But the new pyramid won't even make a dent unless we want it to.

email: jokun@buffnews.com