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New Food Guide for North American Vegetarians

A new food guide for North American vegetarians

The first North American food guide was published by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1916. It was not until the 1940s, however, when wartime shortages, indications of malnutrition among citizens, and the release of the first recommended dietary allowances focused greater attention on nutrient requirements, that food guides became a familiar meal-planning tool in the United States (1). The Canadian government released its first food guide at this time, in 1942 (2). Until 1992, when the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid (3)and Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating (CFGHE) (2) with its rainbow design were introduced, the emphasis of food guides was largely placed on meeting nutrient needs.

The 1992 guides were the first to consider the harmful effects of overnutrition. They were also the first guides to visually emphasize the importance of plant foods in the diet. However, they did not include sufficient guidelines for planning vegetarian diets. USDA publications noted that vegetarians needed special guidance in planning healthful diets, implying that the USDA's food guide was not appropriate for vegetarians (4).

Over the past several decades, a number of meal-planning tools have been developed specifically for vegetarians (5,6). The majority of these have used the pyramid format or the rainbow design, and many have been revised versions of the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid and CFGHE. However, because vegetarian diets differ in many ways from nonvegetarian diets, the USDA Food Guide Pyramid and CFGHE are not necessarily the most useful starting point when considering guidelines for vegetarians. It is particularly difficult to manipulate these tools when attempting to provide adequate and practical guidelines for vegans (vegans are vegetarians who exclude all animal products).

In designing a new food guide for vegetarians, we aimed to achieve the following goals:

--To establish a guide that would meet the needs of people following different types of vegetarian diets;
--To help vegetarians choose diets that would meet the most recent recommendations established by the Institute of Medicine;
--To include guidelines that focus on specific nutrients of particular interest in vegetarian diets, as discussed in the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and Dietitians of Canada's joint position on vegetarian diets in this issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (7,8);
--To include a wide variety of foods that are consumed by vegetarians; and
--To increase awareness about the availability of calcium from nondairy foods.

In addition, we strived to meet the challenge spelled out in the 1981 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education by then US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nutritionist Jean Pennington for an "instrument which converts the professional' s scientific knowledge of food composition and nutrient requirements for health into a practical plan for food selection by those without training in nutrition" (9).

Challenges in designing such a guide exist regardless of dietary pattern. Individual food preferences, habits, and choices within food groups will all impact diet quality. Although no food guide is completely reliable, a food guide can maximize the chances that consumers will choose healthful diets...

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