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The U.S. Department of Agriculture has developed a guide for healthier eating. A publication called "The Food Guide Pyramid" (item 117Z, $1) explains how you can choose the variety of foods, in the right quantities, necessary for a healthful diet. A healthy diet is more than knowing which foods fall into which categories. It means eating more foods from some groups and fewer foods from others.

Picture a pyramid made out of blocks. The more you should eat from a food group, the bigger the block.Imagine the blocks stacked on top of each other, with the largest on the bottom and the smallest on top - a pyramid. The guide includes helpful tips for choosing and preparing foods along with several charts and diagrams showing you how much salt, fat and cholesterol they contain.

For a copy of the booklet, send your name and address and $1 to Consumer Information Center, Dept. 117Z, Pueblo, Colo., 81009.

The food group forming the base of the pyramid includes breads, cereals, rice and pasta. Try to eat at least six servings a day. The guide gives examples of what constitutes a "serving."

These foods contain complex carbohydrates as well as important vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Don't think this group is fattening. It isn't unless you add sauces, creams, butter and jelly. They are what add calories.

So use toppings and sauces in moderation. When you're using packaged mixes, cut the amount of margarine or butter in half, and substitute lowfat or skim for whole milk.

The four middle blocks of the pyramid are fruit, vegetables, milk and meat. You should eat two to four servings of fruit and three to five servings of vegetables every day. Milk and meat are on the next level up. Eat two to three servings each day.

When preparing meet, first trim away as much fat as you can. And instead of frying, try roasting or broiling. Ice cream is high in fat, so choose ice milk or frozen yogurt whenever possible.

When it comes to selecting fruit, try those packed in their own juice instead of heavy syrup. Also, read the label before buying juice. Unless it's 100 percent fruit juice, it may contain more sugar than anything else.

The group at the top of the pyramid, and the one that should make up the smallest percentage of your diet, is fats, oils and sweets. These foods are often high in calories but have little or no nutritional value.

Even when you select foods from the lower part of the pyramid, how you prepare them can add excess calories. A baked potato, for instance, has about 120 calories and only a trace of fat. The same amount of French fries has 11 grams of fat and about 225 calories.