AUSTIN, Texas -- Supermarket produce and bakery directors have a new graphic diet guide they can use to drive sales.
The Vegetarian Diet Pyramid, released here late last month by Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit organization that promotes traditional diets based on plant-based foods, encourages an intake of a mix of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes at every meal as the key to a healthy vegetarian diet.
The guide takes its place beside the organization's previous pyramids covering Mediterranean, Asian and Latin American diets. Some supermarkets, notably Star Market Co., Cambridge, Mass., have used the pyramid in applicable sections to educate consumers and encourage sales.
"This new pyramid does not recommend that consumers become vegetarians, but simply that they can eat more vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains in daily meals," said Oldways founder and president K. Dun Gifford at the conference.
Besides consumption at every meal of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, the pyramid suggests daily intake of nuts, seeds, egg whites, soy milk, dairy products and plant oils, and occasional intake of whole eggs and sweets.
Nutritionists speaking at the conference generally dismissed traditional concerns about vegetarians replacing the iron and protein found in meat, and said those following the pyramid's guidelines should face no exceptional nutritional concerns.
Numerous speakers at the conference here connected healthier diets with those that are lower in animal fat and higher in unprocessed grains, produce and legumes, and the phytochemicals, or plant-based chemical compounds, found in them.
Some of the currently popular food supplements have been based on the growing popularity of phytochemical nutrients, such as silenium and lycopine.
Nutritionists, public health officials, retailers and chefs at the conference admitted they face an uphill climb to get consumers to change their diets. While the Produce for Better Health Foundation's "5 a Day" program promoting five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, and other initiatives like it, have pushed average consumption to about three servings a day for most people, fruits and vegetables are still the two most likely foodstuffs to be omitted from American diets, according to Peter Jarret, food and health writer who spoke at the conference.
And while the benefits of phytochemicals may not be as great in supplements as they are when derived from foods in their unadulterated state, he said, sales of those supplements are soaring.
Evidence of the health benefits of a diet higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal fat was abundant. A report from the Loma Linda 1997 Conference on Vegetarian Nutrition showed long-term results of meatless diets in groups of Seventh Day Adventists included lower levels of obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol, colon cancer and prostate cancer, according to Dr. Gary Fraser of the department of epidemiology at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, Calif.
Organizers of the conference noted Americans who describe themselves as vegetarians now number 14 million, and the vegetarian demographic generally has achieved a higher level of education and income. That increase is directly connected to the growth of both organics in the supermarket and the amount spent at such retailers as Whole Foods Market, based here, it was said.
But the main thrust of both Oldways and the vegetarian pyramid was not primarily aimed at encouraging a meatless diet, but rather to convince consumers to eat more plant-based foods along with smaller portions of meats, said Gifford.