It's been a busy year for nutrition news -- here are the highlights:
* Food labeling: The biggest and best news was the publication of the final regulations governing the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act. Now manufacturers can get on with developing accurate labels for almost all grocery store foods.
For the first time, standardized labels will appear on meat, poultry, fish and even fruits and vegetables. Descriptive terms like "light," "low-fat" and "fresh" will no longer be tricky. Health claims will be controled.
* Weight control: The National Institutes of Health Consensus Conference on Voluntary Weight Loss gathered the brightest minds in obesity research. They concluded that most people who lose weight regain it. Obese people with medical risks should be content with a loss of 10 percent body weight and develop lifestyle changes including healthful eating and exercise, which will help to maintain that loss.
* Food Guide Pyramid: The U.S. Department of Agriculture published the final version of the Food Guide Pyramid, which is a graphic depiction of the principles of healthy eating as presented in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. For a copy, send a check for $1 to: Superintendent of Documents, Consumer Information Center, Dept. 159 Y, Pueblo, Colo., 81009. Request document HG 252.
* Margarine: After years of promoting polyunsaturated margarines for lowering cholesterol, research was published suggesting the trans-fatty acids created during the process of turning liquid oil into solid margarine also raise cholesterol levels. Don't despair. Use a soft tub margarine when necessary, cook with olive or canola oil and use less fat of all kinds.
* Milk: A group known as Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine announced that everyone, especially children, should avoid milk. The American Dietetic Association notes there is no evidence to substantiate PCRM's recommendation. In fact, milk is one of only a few foods rich in calcium, a nutrient quickly absorbed by children and essential to their growth.
* Cancer prevention: A group of Johns Hopkins researchers led by Dr. Paul Talalay announced the isolation of sulforaphane, a natural component of broccoli and other cabbage-family vegetables that seems to boost human and animal cells' ability to fight cancer. More study is needed, but the discovery reinforces observations that people whose diets are high in these cruciferous vegetables have lower cancer rates.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore.