WASHINGTON (AP) – Keep the food pyramid but make it more understandable, food industry and consumer group officials told a panel of Agriculture Department officials on Thursday.

The department is revising its nutrition graphic to reflect new eating guidelines that are due out early next year by a dietary guidance advisory committee.

As part of the review, the Agriculture Department is considering whether some symbol other than the pyramid might be better.

The future of the pyramid design “is totally open,” said Eric Hentges, executive director of the department’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

However, surveys have found that about 80 percent of Americans recognize the shape. Many said such brand recognition should not be cast aside.

“Changing the shape now would mean abandoning the great level of awareness it has established,” Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, told the panel, which also included Health and Human Services Department officials.

Many of those who criticized the content of the graphic found ways to retain its shape.

For instance, Dr. Stuart Trager, medical director of the Atkins Nutritional Approach, the company that promotes the Atkins diet, proposed a pyramid that reflected the high-protein weight-loss regimen – a wide base of meat, poultry, fish and other protein sources, and relatively few carbohydrates at the top. Next to that pyramid was another pyramid that widened as people increased their physical activity, indicating that people could eat more carbs if they exercised more.

The current pyramid has a broad base of bread, cereal, rice and pasta, at six to 11 servings a day, with meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts on the next-to-narrowest tier, at two to three servings a day.

Serving recommendations of the pyramid came under criticism.

Susan Laramee, president of the American Dietetic Association, told the panel that people just don’t understand them.

Robert Earl, senior director for nutrition policy at the National Food Processors Association, said they should be listed the way portions are listed on food packages.

Unlike the current pyramid, which does not specify how much food is in a serving, the Nutrition Facts panels on packages list serving sizes in easy-to-understand household measures, such as one cup.

Not surprisingly, the advocates offered advice that favored their particular foods or diets.

Make sure meat gets highlighted, Atkins’ Trager said.

Make sure meat does not get highlighted, said Dr. Dean Ornish, president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif., whose diet plan focuses on vegetables and whole grains.

And don’t slight sugar, said Charles Baker, vice president of scientific affairs at the Sugar Association. “The pyramid continues to assign added sugars to the category of “leftover calories,”‘ Baker said.

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