Turning the food pyramid on its head

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition, Danisco sugar

Scientists in Denmark are to investigate whether a radical
suggestion from the US about turning the 'food pyramid' on its head
- and therefore eating more foods such as rice and bread than is
traditionally considered healthy - is likely to lead to an
improvement in dietary intake.

The research will be carried out by the Danish Department for Human Nutrition, and will focus on the so-called Healthy Eating Pyramid created by a team of US scientists headed by Dr Walter Willett. In this new, 'upside down' pyramid, white bread, rice, pasta and potatoes have been moved from the bottom to the top, while there is also more discrimination between so-called 'good' and 'bad' fats.

For example, if the fat is unsaturated and comes from products such as olive oil or nuts, then it may constitute a considerable part of a staple diet. Unsaturated fat, however, is found in the bottom layer of the pyramid, together with exercising.

The new alternative food pyramid comes at a time when the Atkins diet fad has resulted in a major reduction in carbohydrate consumption at the same time as increasing protein intake. Its suggestion that high-carb foods such as white bread, potatoes, pasta and sugar should play a more important role in the daily food intake is therefore likely to raise a few eyebrows.

Danish company Danisco Sugar is a co-sponsor of the study, which it claims matches its own commitment to researching healthier alternatives to traditional diets. "Sugar plays only a small part in the food recommendations, and the advice about 'using sugar sparingly' is the same in both pyramids,"​ said Anne-Mette Nielsen, nutrition communication manager at Danisco Sugar.

"But our sponsorship of the study is in line with our nutrition policy, which welcomes new knowledge about carbohydrates and nutrition,"​ she said.

The Danish study is one of the first to try and assess which of the two food pyramid models is the healthiest. The official Danish recommendations are based on the traditional pyramid, and with no scientific evidence as yet to back up the claims of the alternative, government scientists have been charged with assessing the long-term impact of the new paradigm.

Headed by Professor Arne Astrup, the Danish team will undertake a four-year study of the Willett recommendations, and current national dietary recommendations could be updated if the findings are positive, according to the Danish Nutrition Council.

The study comprises 125 overweight/obese people, divided into three groups. Two of the groups will follow a diet created in accordance with the recommendations from the alternative and traditional food pyramids. The third group is a control group, who will be eating a traditional Danish diet with a higher fat content and lower carbohydrate content than in the official recommendations.

The study will run for two years, with a follow-up after another two years to see if any weight losses and dietary changes have been sustained. Ongoing findings will be posted (in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian only) at this website​.

Further information about the Danish study can also be found at the researchers' website​.

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